pronunciation symbols

Discussion in 'English Only' started by thanksalot, Jun 18, 2012.

  1. thanksalot Member

    I'm wondering if British English and American English share the same pronunciation symbol from IPA.
    Br English and Ame English sounds different for some words, such as 'bottle' but does all dictionaries show one symbol for it?
    Isn't the pronunciation symbol supposed to deliver the actual sound of each word?
    I'm confused.
  2. loggats

    loggats Member

    British English
    I think you'll find that most online or layman dictionaries aren't very comprehensive when it comes to IPA, and some even have "in house" styles (eg. the Cambridge dictionary uses /e/ instead of an epsilon - Oxford has its own quirks too).

    There are more thorough ways of transcribing minute phonemic variations, but they would be cumbersome and probably a little obscure for most of us.

    Having said that, certain sounds in RP are very different from standard American pronunciation, and dictionaries will generally show this difference. For example, one of the Cambridge online dictionaries gives the following information:

    TOMATO UK/təˈmɑː.təʊ/ US/-ˈmeɪ.t ̬oʊ/
  3. Beryl from Northallerton Senior Member

    British English
    I believe the IPA symbols were developed in France, and that the vowel sounds are especially suited to realizing the pronunciation of French words. That said, if your dictionary is only offering one (standard) pronunciation, then it will most likely reflect the pronunciations of its target audience (like Webster's is a US dictionary).
  4. mplsray Senior Member

    As a rule, American dictionaries intended for native speakers of American English do not use the International Phonetic Alphabet. They use traditional symbols, such as marking "long vowels" with a macron over the vowel, but even given that there is no one single traditional system.

    When they do use IPA, the symbols are the same as used in British dictionaries, with different symbols used when the pronunciation is different between the two varieties of English.
  5. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    This is a big topic, and I don't think it can be discussed in detail here.

    (1) Phonetic symbols simplify the situation, and no dictionary attempts to represent different accents in a country, for example.
    (2) British and Americans phoneticians might use slightly different IPA symbols - particularly for the vowels.

    It is not true that dictionaries will show only one pronunciation for each word. You example was bottle. The British Macmillan indicates: /ˈbɒt(ə)l/, whereas the American Macmillan indicates: /ˈbɑt(ə)l/. Note the different vowel symbol for the first syllable.

    Thanksalot, to help us focus the discussion, perhaps you could invite people here to consider only the word bottle?
  6. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Even within Britain there are very varied ways of pronouncing the same word, depending on region, age and/or social class. So recording the "actual sound" of each word could prove very cumbersome for a single-volume dictionary. Therefore dictionaries will probably give only one version ("received pronunciation") and leave readers to make their own minds up over the others. I see that the Shorter Oxford, for instance, gives /klas/ for the pronunciation of "class", while perhaps a third of the country, including me, pronounces it as /klæs/. To my ear the American version is closer to /kle:s/.

    However, this vowel-sound and many others are fairly consistent; once you have learnt which version of class you intend to use, you can apply that to bath, path, pass, and so forth.
  7. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    No, and this wouldn't be very useful, because of the wide range of English accents. Instead, a pronunciation guide tells you which kind of sound a word has. This is very useful because English spelling is so difficult. The symbol [i:] might be pronounced differently by people in Edinburgh, New York, and Canberra, but a dictionary can show you that the same sound is used in bee, field, leave, machine, complete, and so on: five different spellings, but the New Yorker uses the same New York [i:] sound in all five of them. The Australian will use a different actual sound, but will also use that same sound in all five words.

    It is possible to indicate the sound of most words in this way without reference to any accent. You still need to know how to translate the symbols into sounds - but that is regular. Given the pronunciation guide /bɒtl/, many Londoners would make this [bɒʔo], and many New Yorkers would make this [bɑ:dɫ], but that process is regular. For a New Yorker the symbol /ɒ/ represents the sound [ɑ:], and so on.

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