/æ/, /ʌ/, /ə/ phonemic transcription tips/rules?

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Senior Member
These sounds give me some hard time when it comes to phonemic transcription.

For example
/æm'bɪʃəs/ - ambitious
/ʌndə'stænd/ - understand
/ə'pɒlədʒi/ - apology
/ɑːftə/ - after
Even after countless hours of listening I still struggle to properly guess the initial sounds in these simple words.

Especially /æ/ and /ʌ/ are problematic. I understand the difference in articulation and I can pronounce them distinctively but when it comes to listening and transcribing I feel lost.

Are there any phonemic/spelling rules that would allow me to guess initial vowels in these words (these are not the only words that I struggle with and not always initial vowel is the problem but that would be a good start) I know that 'u' usually translates to /ʌ/ and few others but not enough so if you know of any please tell.​
Last edited:
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Apology' and 'understand' can be covered by a rule that English stresses tend to alternate: stressed and unstressed (or vice versa). So the syllables next to the stressed -pol- of 'apology' are unstressed [ə]. So is the -er- of 'understand', for the same reason. But the u- is two syllables away from the main stress so it has a secondary stress, and is [ʌ], not [ə]: /ˌʌndə'stænd/.

    Unfortunately this doesn't explain 'ambitious' or 'umbrella', where you have a full vowel in the unstressed position next to the main stress. English is complicated, sorry.
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