Thomas Paikeday t.paikeday at SYMPATICO.CA
Wed Aug 9 14:55:46 UTC 2000

Sorry I missed the good clean water that flowed under the bridge while I was

About the long and short of the "oo" sound, I would like to ask why umlauts and
such diacritics on the one hand and symbols unprintable in Roman letters (as in
IPA) should be imposed on the general public who are not taking courses in
phonetics. Of course, this is not fair to teachers of phonetics - seems to
question the reason for their existence.

But talking about people who just want to decode pronunciations without
learning to use totally new and abstract systems, diacritical, IPA,
spelling-based, or what have you, are systems more important than the people
they serve? For example, what's the earthly use of transcribing "stone" as
(STOHN) or "rage" as (RAYJ) in a spelling-based system? Why not give dictionary
users the benefit of the doubt, namely that they do read English at the
"elementary level" (give or take a few years) and leave well enough alone?

Back to the "poo-" sounds, if you take the more common headwords of a
dictionary for the people, we have the following entries: poo, pooch, poodle,
pooh, pooh-bah, pooh-pooh, pool, poop, poor, etc. The question is, which of
these need transcription into an abstract system for the benefit of the English
user who reads at the elementary level? Does a normal English speaker ever try
to say any of those words with a short "oo"? How about getting a little more
narrow and showing that the initial open "p" is aspirate in English? "Poor" may
be neither long nor short, but isn't it an academic question to be tackled at
the  ESL starting level?

In 1983-84, I field-tested an 85,000-entry dictionary using American
high-school teachers from coast to coast and their students and the responses
were near unanimous. Everyone prefers a keyless pronunciation system. So how do
you define "system"?

How you pronounce the word is (SIS.tum) in my book, in case anyone wondered if
it was (SICE.tum). I am reminded of my friend who got lost in Reading, England.
He was asking for directions to (REE.ding).

In other dictionaries it is:

(a) (sis[primary stress].t[schwa]m) in most diacritical systems;
(b) ([primary stress]s[dotless "i"]s.t[schwa]m), as in IPA;
(c) (sis[boldfaced][hyphen instead of dot or space]t["e" carrying a breve
mark]m), as in Oxford American Dictionary. I object to the use of breve "e" on
phonetic grounds. I think unstressed "u+consonant" is more correct than "breve
e+consonant" if you look at English spelling patterns.

Thanks for your expert reactions.

Tom Paikeday
THOMAS M. PAIKEDAY, lexicographer since 1964
Latest work: "The User's™ Webster," Lexicography, Inc., 2000
ISBN 0-920865-03-8 / utpbooks at utpress.utoronto.ca

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