Friday, May 07, 2010


The highlighted word above (The New Paper, 14 April 2010) should, of course, be cost rather than cause.  As with so many typos, this one seems to have a phonological basis. 

But how do cost and cause end up as homophones (or at best near-homophones) in Singapore English when, in British Received Pronunciation (RP) for example, they are /kɒst/ and /kɔ:z/? 

The first factor is the neutralization of distinctions between vowels that are differentiated in other varieties of English: here, the distinction between short /ɒ/ and long /ɔ:/, which is responsible for pot/port being a minimal pair in RP.

The second is the phenomenon of final fricative devoicing, where /z/ becomes [s], which leads to course and cause being /kɒs/ or /kɔ:s/ in Singapore English, whereas in RP they are /kɔ:s/ and /kɔ:z/.

And finally, the simplication of consonant clusters, leading to the loss of /t/ in cost.

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