Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum

IPA in ASCII, as promised (revised)

Bob Bridges

Ok, here's the complete .txt I've been saving for years.  I did a little proofreading on it (but not much), including updating one or two of the URLs (but only one or two), and I did not correct any of the pronunciation notes even where I was inclined to disagree with them.  No doubt we'll have lots of fun fighting over these comments hereafter.

Using this system, I would pronounce "slough" /slu/, but Christõ's poem uses /slaU/.

Editing notes: The original plain text file used angle brackets ("<>") to indicate the original IPA character; that won't work here, of course, so I changed them all to braces ("{}")

Some of the spacing was originally achieved by <Tab> characters, but they weren't preserved; after saving this post, I came back and saw they were all converted to spaces.  So I reäligned (/ri@'laInd/) the pronunciation table by spaces.  This on the assumption that you're using a fixed-spacing font in your text browser, for example Courier New or Lucida Console.

It turns out (I never knew this before today) that if the first character in a line is a space, Ceilidh eats it for some reason.  That caused my new alignment not to be perfectly aligned, so I added a space at the beginning of every line just so it's aligned both below and in the Reply screen.

If necessary, just email me and I'll send it to you as an attachment.

How to represent pronunciation in ASCII

Beware of using ad-hoc methods to indicate pronunciation.  The problem with ad-hoc methods is that they often wrongly assume your dialect to have certain features in common with the readers' dialect(s).  You may pronounce "bother" to rhyme with "father"; some of the readers here don't.  You may pronounce "cot" and "caught" alike; some of the readers here don't.  You may pronounce "caught" and "court" alike; some of the readers here don't.

The standard way to represent pronunciation (used in the latest British dictionaries and by linguists worldwide) is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).  For a complete guide to the IPA, see _Phonetic Symbol Guide_ by Geoffrey K. Pullum and William A. Ladusaw (University of Chicago Press, 1986, ISBN 0-226-68532-2).  IPA uses many special symbols; on the Net, where we're restricted to ASCII symbols, we must find a way to make do.

The following scheme is thanks to Evan Kirshenbaum (  The complete scheme can be accessed on the WWW at  I show here only examples for the sounds most often referred to in this newsgroup.  Where there are two columns, the left column shows British Received Pronunciation (RP) and the right column shows a rhotic pronunciation used by at least some US speakers.  (There's a WWW page at that shows what the IPA symbols look like.)

*** Vowels:
: previous sound lengthened
; previous sound palatalized
~ previous sound nasalized
[j]   "yes"                        /jEs/
[i]   "eat"                        /i:t/
[I]   "it"                         /It/      {iota}
[e]   "eight"                      /eIt/
      "chaos"                      /'keAs/
      "Mary"                       /'meIri/
[E]   "end"                        /End/     {epsilon}
      "get"                        /gEt/
      "merry"                      /'mEri/
[a]   French "ami"                 /a'mi/
      Italian _pasta_              /'pasta/
      Chicago "pop"                /pap/
      Boston "park"                /pa:k/
      "dive"                       /daIv/
      "out"                        /aUt/
[&]   "ash"                        /&S/      {ash}
      "cat"                        /k&t/
      "marry"                      /'m&ri/
[V]   "shun"                       /SVn/     {turned v}
      "up"                         /Vp/
      British "hurry"              /'hVrI/
[@]   "lemon"                      /'lEm@n/  {schwa}
[V"]  RP "fern"                    /fV":n/   {reversed epsilon}
      US "fern"                    /fV"rn/
      RP "hurl"                    /hV":l/
      US "hurl"                    /hV"rl/
      Many U.S. speakers substitute [@] for [V"], so they would say /f@rn/, /h@rl/.  Many
      other U.S. speakers pronounce "fern" with no vowel at all:  /fr:n/, /hr:l/.  If you
      are one of the few speakers who distinguish such pairs as "pearl" and "purl" (using
      a lower, more retracted vowel in "purl"), then you can transcribe "pearl" /p@rl/
      and "purl" /pV"rl/.
[A]   "all"                        /O:l/     {script a}
      "caught"                     /kOt/
      "raw"                        /rO:/
[A.]  British pronunciation:                 {turned script a}
      "hot" British                /hA.t/
      "bother"                     /'bA.D@/
      "sorry"                      /'sA.rI/
[O]   "court"                      /kOrt/    {open o}
[o]   US pronunciation:
      "no"                         /noU/
      "old"                        /oUld/
      "omit"                       /oU'mIt/
[U]   "book"                       /bUk/     {upsilon}
      "pull"                       /pUl/
[u]   "ooze"                       /u:z/
      "loose"                      /lus/

[y]   French _lune_                /lyn/
      German _m"ude_               /'myd@/
      Round your lips for [u] and try to say [i].
[I.]  German _Gl"uck_              /glI.k/   {small capital y}
      Round your lips for [U] and try to say [I].
[W]   French _heure_               /Wr/      {o-e ligature}
      German _K"opfe_              /'kWpf@/
      Round your lips for [O] and try to say [E].
[Y]   French _peu_                 /pY/      {slashed o}
      German _sch"on_              /SYn/
      Scots "guidwillie"           /gYd'wIli/
      Round your lips for [o] and try to say [e].

*** Consonants:  The consonant symbols [b], [d], [f], [h], [k], [l], [m], [n], [p], [r], [s], [t], [v], [w] and [z] have their usual English values.

[?]   "uh-oh"                      /V?oU/    {glottal}
[C]   German (Hochdeutsch) _ich_   /IC/      {c cedilla}
[D]   "this"                       /DIs/     {edh}
[g]   "get"                        /gEt/
[N]   "hang"                       /h&N/     {eng}
[R]   equivalent to /@r/, /r-/     /V"r/     {right-hook schwa}
[S]   "ship"                       /SIp/     {esh}
[T]   "thin"                       /TIn/     {theta}
[t!]  "tsk-tsk" or "tut-tut"       /t! t!/   {turned t}
[x]   Scots "loch"                 /lA.x/
      German _Bach_                /bax/
[Z]   "beige"                      /beIZ/    {yogh}
[*]   some US "pedal" and "petal"  /pE*@l/   {fish-hook r}
      Scots "pearl"                /pE*@l/
      A short tap of the tongue used by Scots and some US speakers.  If you are a US
      speaker but distinguish "pedal" from "petal", then you do not use this sound.
-     "bundle"                     /'bVnd@l/ or /'bVndl-/
      "button"                     /bVt@n/ or /bVtn-/
      Indicates previous consonant is syllabic
{h}   previous sound aspirated
'     following syllable has primary stress
,     following syllable has secondary stress

Here is the scheme compared with the transcriptions in 4 U.S. dictionaries.  (Most British dictionaries now use IPA for their transcriptions.)

       Merriam-Webster    American Heritage Random House     Webster's New World
[A]    a umlaut           a umlaut          a umlaut          a umlaut
[A.]   (merged with [A])  o breve           o                 (merged with [A])
[a]    a overdot          (merged with [A]) A                 a overdot
/aI/   i macron           i macron          i macron          i macron
/aU/   a u overdot        ou                ou                ou
[C]    (merged with [x])  (merged with [x]) (merged with [x]) H
[D]    th underlined      th in italics     th slashed        th in italics
/dZ/   j                  j                 j                 j
[E]    e                  e breve           e                 e
/E@/   e schwa            a circumflex      a circumflex      (merged with [e])
/eI/   a macron           a macron          a macron          a macron
[g]    g                  g                 g                 g
[I]    i                  i breve           i                 i
[I.]   ue ligature        (merged with [y]) (merged with [y]) (merged with [y])
[i]    e macron           e macron          e macron          e macron
[j]    y                  y                 y                 y
[N]    {eng}              ng                ng                {eng}
[O]    o overdot          o circumflex      o circumflex      o circumflex
/OI/   o overdot i        oi                oi                oi ligature
/oU/   o macron           o macron          o macron          o macron
[S]    sh                 sh                sh                sh ligature
[T]    th                 th                th                th ligature
/tS/   ch                 ch                ch                ch ligature
[U]    u overdot          oo breve          oo breve          oo
[u]    u umlaut           oo macron         oo macron         oo macron
[V]    (merged with [@])  u breve           u                 u
[V"]   (merged with [@])  u circumflex      u circumflex      u circumflex
[W]    oe ligature        oe ligature       OE ligature       o umlaut
[x]    k underlined       KH                KH                kh ligature
[Y]    oe ligature macron (merged with [W]) (merged with [W]) (merged with [W])
[y]    ue ligature macron u umlaut          Y                 u umlaut
[Z]    zh                 zh                zh                zh ligature
[&]    a                  a breve           a                 a
[@]    schwa              schwa             schwa             schwa
-      superscript schwa  syllabicity mark  unmarked          '

Auditory files demonstrating speech sounds can be obtained by anonymous ftp from (or on the World Wide Web at Look in "/user/ai/areas/nlp/corpora/pron" and "/user/ai/areas/speech/database/britpron".

rhotic vs non-rhotic, intrusive "r"
A rhotic speaker is one who pronounces as a consonant postvocalic "r", i.e. the "r" after a vowel in words like "world" /wV"rld/.  A nonrhotic speaker either does not pronounce the "r" at all /wV"ld/ or pronounces it as a schwa /wV"@ld/.  British Received Pronunciation (RP) and many other dialects of English are nonrhotic.

Many nonrhotic speakers (including RP speakers, but excluding most nonrhotic speakers in the southern U.S.) use a "linking r": they don't pronounce "r" in "for" by itself /fO:/, but they do pronounce the first "r" in "for ever" /fO: 'rEv@/.  Linking "r" differs from French liaison in that the former happens in any phonetically appropriate context, whereas the latter also needs the right syntactic context.

A further development of "linking r" is "intrusive r".  Intrusive-r speakers, because the vowels in "law" (which they pronounce the same as "lore") and "idea" (which they pronounce to rhyme with "fear") are identical for them to vowels spelled with "r", intrude an r in such phrases as "law [r]and order" and "The idea [r]of it!"  They do NOT intrude an [r] after vowels that are never spelled with an "r".  Some people blanch at intrusive r, but most RP speakers now use it.

How do Americans pronounce "dog"?
Those who round their lips when they say it would probably transcribe it /dOg/; those who don't round their lips, /dAg/.

Very few people in North America distinguish all three vowels /A/, /A./, and /O/.  Speakers in Eastern and Southern U.S. merge /A./ and /A/, so that "bother" and "father" rhyme.  Speakers in Western U.S. and in Canada merge /A./ and /O/, so that "cot" and "caught", "Don" and "Dawn" are pronounced alike.  Some speakers merge all three vowels.  The Oxford Companion to the English Language says:  "The merger of vowels in _tot_ and _taught_ begins in a narrow band in central Pennsylvania and spreads north and south to influence the West, where the merger is universal. [...] In New England, where the merger is beginning to occur, speakers select the first vowel; in the Midland and West, the second vowel is used for both."  Although /A./ is seldom used to transcribe American pronunciation, the vowel transcribed /O/ may sound like /A./ to non-American speakers, or it may sound like /O/.

There is a further complication with "dog":   U.S. dictionaries give the pronunciations /dOg/, /dAg/ in that order (and similarly with some other words ending in "-og", although which ones varies from dictionary to dictionary).  "Dawg", the name of the family dog in the comic strip "Hi and Lois", may be intended to convey the pronunciation /dOg/ to (or from) people who usually pronounce the word /dAg/; or it may be intended as how a child in a community where /A./ and /O/ are merged might misspell "dog".

Words pronounced differently according to context
There is a general tendency in English whereby when a word with a stressed final syllable is followed by another word without a pause, the stress moves forward:  "kangaROO", but "KANGaroo court"; "afterNOON", but "AFTernoon nap"; "above BOARD", but "an aBOVEboard deal".  This happens chiefly in noun phrases, but not exclusively so ("acquiESCE" versus "ACquiesce readily").  Consider also "Chinese" and all numbers ending in "-teen".

When "have to" means "must", the [v] in "have" becomes an [f]. Similarly, in "has to", [z] becomes [s].  When "used to" and "supposed to" are used in their senses of "formerly" and "ought", the "-sed" is pronounced /st/; when they're used in other senses, it's /zd/.

In many dialects, "the" is pronounced /D@/ before a consonant, and /DI/ before a vowel sound.  Many foreigners learning English are taught this rule explicitly.  Native English speakers are also taught this rule when we sing in choirs.  (We do it instinctively in rapid speech; but in the slower pace of singing, it has to be brought to our conscious attention.)

Words that have different pronunciations for specialized meanings include the noun "address" (often stressed on the first syllable when denoting a location, but stressed on the second syllable when denoting an oration) "contrary" (often stressed on the second syllable when the meaning is "perverse"); the verb "discount" (stressed on the first syllable when the meaning is "to reduce in price", but on the second syllable when the meaning is "to disbelieve"); the verb "process" (stressed on the second syllable when the meaning is "to go in procession"); the noun "recess" (stressed on the first syllable when it means "a break from working", but on the second syllable when it means "a secluded part"); the verb "relay" (stressed on the first syllable when it means "to pass on radio or TV signals", but on the second syllable when it means "to pass on something that was said"); and the verb "second" (stressed on the first syllable when it means "to endorse a motion", but on the second syllable when it means "to temporarily re-assign an employee".  "Offence" and "defence", usually stressed on the second syllable, are often in North America stressed on the first syllable when the context is team sports.  (In the US, of course, they are spelled with -se .)

Words whose spelling has influenced their pronunciation
"Cocaine" used to be pronounced /'co ca in/ (3 syllables).  "Waistcoat" used to be pronounced /'wEskIt/.  "Humble" and "human" were borrowed from French with no [h] in their pronunciation.  "Forte" in the sense "strong point" comes from French, where the "e" is not pronounced.

"Zoo" is an abbreviation of "zoological garden".  The (popular but stigmatized) pronunciation of "zoological" as /zu@'lA.dZik@l/ (as opposed to /zo@'lA.dZik@l/) is due to the influence of "zoo".

"Elephant" was "olifaunt" in Middle English, but its spelling was restored to reflect the Latin "elephantus".  Similarly, "crocodile" was "cokedrill".

"Golf" is Scots.  The traditional Scots pronunciation is /gof/.  "Ralph" was traditionally pronounced /ref/ in Britain -- Gilbert and Sullivan rhymed it with "waif" in _H.M.S. Pinafore_; that's how the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams pronounced his name; and even today actor Ralph Fiennes (of _Schindler's List_ fame) is said to pronounce his name /ref faInz/.

"Medicine" and "regiment" were two-syllable words in the 19th century:  /'mEdsIn/ and /'rEdZm@nt/.  /'mEdsIn/ can still be heard in RP.  In 19th-century England, "university" was pronounced /,ju:nIv'A:sItI/ and "laundry" was pronounced /'lA:ndrI/.

King Arthur would have pronounced his name /'artur/.  The h's in "Arthur" (now universally reflected in the pronunciation) and "Anthony" (reflected in the U.S. pronunciation) were added in the 15th century -- ornamentally or, in the case of "Anthony", because of a false connection with Greek _anthos_="flower".

The new pronunciations in such cases are called "spelling pronunciations".  The "speak-as-you-spell movement" is described in the MEU2 article on "pronunciation".

On Fri Mar 6, The Last of the True French Short Bastards wrote
>I think "slough" pronounced /slu/ is a northeastern US thing. There's also "slough" pronounced /slVf/.

[ This message was edited on Fri Mar 27 by the author ]

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