Today on Jeopardy there was a category on homophones, words that sound alike, but have different meanings.

Here’s the clue that threw me:

a homophone that can mean either a high-ranking member of a Mafia family, or the rising of the sun.

No wonder I missed that one. In the dialect of standard English that I speak, the words don and dawn are NOT homophones.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the pronunciation of don as /dÉ’n/.
The International Phonetic Alphabet symbol /É’/ represents the vowel sound heard in lot, pod, and John.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary agrees with the OED pronunciation, but uses the symbol \ ä \ to represent this vowel sound.

The OED gives only one pronunciation for dawn: /dɔːn/. The IPA symbol /ɔː/ represents the sound heard in thought, Maud, fall, straw, and yes, dawn.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged gives a pronunciation that agrees with that of the the OED, but uses the symbol of an o with a dot over it to represent the “aw” sound. I can’t get it to print in WordPress. M-W includes the regional \ ä \ sound as a second pronunciation.

I have no quarrel with regional speakers who make Dawn rhyme with Don, but I do object when a quiz show that draws contestants from all regions makes a nonstandard pronunciation part of a clue.

NOTE to teachers: the sound \ ä \ is already a stumbling block in learning to spell because it can be represented by either the letter a or the letter o. There’s value in retaining the/ɔː/ sound when teaching words spelled with aw.

3 Responses

  1. I pronounce both Dawn and Don the same. People tell me it’s wrong, but I have always said it this way. They both make the “ahn” sound. I’m from central Indiana, so maybe most Hoosiers are like me; I don’t know. Where I currently live in northwestern Illiniois, many pronounce Dawn with the “aww” sound, and Don somewhere between “ahn” and “ann” so that their lips open horizontally–sort of a subdued Chicago accent.

  2. I’m with you on this one! I’ve traveled around the country and have never gotten up at the crack of “don.” Nor heard anyone else refer in this way to their early rising!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.