Route: spelling and pronunciation [and IPA vs. Orthographic respellings]

Thomas Paikeday t.paikeday at SYMPATICO.CA
Tue Jul 2 18:38:34 UTC 2002


This is what I call taking the bull by the horns. My answers are
interspersed below right after the questions. Thanks for asking.

(more at website below in preparation)

Mark A Mandel wrote:
> On Sun, 30 Jun 2002, Thomas Paikeday wrote:
> #TOM PAIKEDAY (pointing to the spelling of his name, the first syllable
> #of which is not good orthography, but I didn't do it! Anyone who cares
> #please say PYE- not PAY-).
> Well, I seem to have deleted the exchange in which someone pointed out
> that PYE- could be the beginning of "Pierre", and Tom replied, iirc,
> that "Pierre" is not an English word, so I have to go by memory. This
> "system" of respelling, then, is apparently only useable for native and
> nativized words of American English, for some value of "nativized". How
> is the naive user to determine the boundary? Or is this method intended
> to be used actively only by experts, and only passively by others, such
> as users of a dictionary?  How *would* you represent the pronunciations
> of "Pierre" and other words that combine AEng phonemes but transgress
> AEng phonotactics? Or are they simply excluded from consideration?

ANSWER #1: Our orthographic respelling system (there's a full
explanation in the Guide to the User's® Webster which I am appending
hereto) works best with native and nativized words of AmE, as you put
it. We try to do rough justice to non-English words such as "danseuse"
(dahn.SOOZ), "loch" (LOK, LOKH), Pierre (PYAIR) - "rough" because many
questions have to be left unanswered, like, Is that (PYE- as in "pie" or
a labialized "p"?).

On the defensive, I'd say the system is tailored to the needs of the
popular user, not for academics. In a couple of dictionaries of Cdn
English I compiled in the Sixties, I used a simplified IPA, i.e. English
letters for the most part plus 10 IPA symbols: c, s, z (with haceks in
"chip, ship, measure"), the usual symbols in "thin," "this," and "sing")
and u (with superscript "i", in "debut"), o (with superscript "e", in
"danseuse"), reversed and inverted (without straining my back) "c" with
superscript "n", in "bon mot"), and k (with superscript "h" in "loch"
etc.). By 1980, I had decided this was too much of a strain on the
average English user (one can't please both anglophones and
francophones) and went on to develop the present keyless system.
> I had to face a very similar issue in constructing representations of
> pronunciations at Dragon Systems. A senior scientist kept insisting that
> there had to be some way of spelling each phoneme distinctly and
> transparently to the naive user, answering each of my counterexamples
> simply by shaking his head and repeating, "There's GOT to be a way."
> There isn't: SOME learning is required, e.g., OOH for [u:] (the "oo" of
> "mood" to you, Tom, or the "ui" of "suit") vs. OO for [U] (the "oo" of
> "foot"). And it's especially impossible (imho) if you don't allow the
> option, as we did, of separating multi-letter phoneme symbols with
> spaces or hyphens: that's where the ambiguity of "PYE" arises.

ANSWER #2: Mark, I feel for you and almost completely agree with you.
About the learning part, I believe the average elementary school
graduate should be able to read (OOH) as it is meant to be read, not in
isolation, but in well-known phonetic contexts. When you say "OOH for
[u:]" that looks like a system for system's sake as in the Oxford
American Dictionary and others, and that means more learning.

We use a shoehorn to distinguish between "long" and "short" in ambiguous
phonetic contexts. Thus for "foot" (granted the vowel could be either
long or short) we give the pronunciation as (short "oo"). For "food," we
say (long "oo") and for "good" (short "oo"). (It could be argued that
these are words which our sixth grader should know, but one can't be too
nice). We also don't bother about the nicer phonetic questions involved,
like whether the long "oo" is diphthongized or not, just as no
indication is given for aspirated/unaspirated consonants as in
"pin/spin" (a question Rudy raised) in the best of IPA and diacritic
systems used in dictionaries.

There is no "naive user" for us, if I understand you right, but only one
"tutored" to the elementary level. The "naive user" concept may be
required for scientists working with mechanical devices using cut and
dry (0/1) distinctions. I am no expert in spelling-to-sound work or the
innards of computers (although it was my fascination with what even
early computers could do to translate spelling into sound that made me
purchase my first computer in 1980).
> Come to think of it, how do you respell "suit" and "foot"?
ANSWER #3: "foot" is respelled as explained above, but if anyone wants
to check whether it's OK to say (SYOOT), that is not within the scope of
a midsize dictionary.

> BTW, did you ever answer my other question, about dialectal
> neutralizations such as which/witch and cot/caught?

ANSWER #4: We leave this to the "tutored" user. This applies to all
wha-/whe-/whi- words. Similarly, users may go for what is usual in their
own dialects on the cot/caught question. Normally (cot) should suffice
for both words. But we do use the "aw-" respelling on occasion.

We try to be user-friendly (not scholastic) and do the best job we can
with the best tools at our command. I appreciate scholars raising
academic questions because the system has to make linguistic sense (I
hope mine does), but most users, we believe, couldn't care less (no
offence!) about systems and keys to systems and if they did, they could
go to a bigger dictionary like Webster's Third or OED.
> -- Mark A. Mandel
>    Linguist at Large

>From the User Guide to The User's® Webster

INTRODUCTION: The User's® Webster is designed for use without
explanatory notes, pronunciation keys, and such aids. The user should be
able to pick up the dictionary cold and find the desired information if
it is within the scope of the book. However, a few tips on some of the
main features of this dictionary are offered below.
        (a) SYLLABLE DIVISION: As  a general rule, a syllable division  is
made: (1) after the vowel if the vowel is long, diphthongized, or
unstressed, the resulting syllable being called an "open" syllable; (2)
after the consonant if the vowel is short and carries a stress, which
results in a "closed" syllable. Examples: a.back, ab.a.cus, ...,, in which the underlined
syllables [lost here, sorry] are closed, the others being open. This is
only the most general of the rules of syllabication, but it is useful to
know it explicitly.
        (b) The user is assumed to have acquired a familiarity with the basic
sound-spelling patterns of English, as in the most common words of the
language. No pronunciation is indicated for sounds whose spelling is
such that only one pronunciation is normally possible. Such are:
        VOWELS: The vowel sounds of: at, sail, lake, air; bed, day; big, deep,
deer, hide, bye, fire; on, cause, law, more; bone, oh, how, our, boy,
oil; ah, but, poor, cure; uh, burn.
        Vowel sounds in certain phonetic contexts or positions: (1) words
ending in -oal, -oat, -old, -olk, -olt, etc. have the long "o" or
diphthong; (2) words and syllables ending in -ete, -ew, -ool, -oon,
-oop, -oose, -ooth, -ude, -uke, -ume, -ute, etc. have long vowels, with
the exception of wool; (3) words and syllables ending in -ee, -o, and
-oo are long or diphthongized.
        CONSONANTS: The initial consonant sounds of: bad, can, chair, dog, fat,
go, ghost, guess, guy, hat, just, keep, lake, make, name, page, quick,
red, same, take, the, thin, very, wait, what, yes, zoo.
        These and other rules of English pronunciation are taken as implicitly
known to users who have attained the primary-school (Grade 8) level of
proficiency in reading and speaking.
        However, some pronunciations are made more explicit by additional
helps, as in (awl.THOH, "TH" as in "the"), (ES.theet, "th" as in
"thin"), (uh.LOOF, long "OO"), (buh.BOOSH.kuh, short or long "OO"), and
(uh.DUCE, rhyme: produce).
        (c) ACCENTUATION
        Several levels of stress may be noted in English words when they are
studied in isolation.
        Thus, could be analyzed as having its stresses distributed
on the basis of relative force in this order of syllables: 3-1-4-2. In
actual use, however, one rarely hears the main stress placed on the
second syllable. In, the main stress is supposed to be
on the fourth syllable, but it is frequently placed on the second.
Sentence stress partly explains this variation between what is correct
when words are studied in isolation and how words are pronounced in
actual, continuous speech.
        Most dictionaries routinely indicate a primary and a secondary stress
for words of three syllables or more, as in ac.cen.tu.ate which is shown
with a primary stress on the second syllable and a secondary stress on
the last.
        The User's® Webster uses a more simplified system of accentuation, as
explained below.
        1. A stressed syllable is shown in capitals.
        2. A word of two syllables is assumed to have its stress on the first
syllable if it is left unmarked for stress, as milk.shake (MILK.shake)
whose accentuation and pronunciation are taken as self-explanatory.
        3. In multisyllabic words, only the main stress is normally indicated,
secondary stresses being considered variable, as explained above.
        4. A second stress, however, is indicated using capitals when there are
more than two syllables preceding the main stress and the syllable with
the greater stress may be in doubt.
        Thus, ( is shown with the second
syllable in capitals as well as the fourth. This kind of double
stressing is normally not required when all but one of the syllables
have neutral vowels, as in (et.uh.muh.LOJ.uh.cul), in
which only the first syllable has a full vowel and which, therefore, is
the only other syllable besides the fourth that may be pronounced with a
stress. The fullness of the vowel should give the syllable any stress
that is required for good enunciation.
        5. The letter group (uh) always stands for the unstressed neutral
vowel, also called schwa, as in the first syllable of a.bove (uh.BUV),
the middle syllable of (SIL.uh.bul), and the last syllable of (eye.DEE.uh).
        6. Letter groups with (u) plus another consonant, as in ob.tain
(ub.TAIN), ran.dom (RAN.dum), (RAIN.jur), ray.ment (RAY.munt),
etc. are also normally pronounced with a neutral vowel if they are not
shown stressed. Exceptions would be when a syllable becomes more
prominent or gets a secondary stress because of its existence as a
separate word.
        Thus, "-nut," the second syllable of do.nut (DOH.nut), could be
pronounced either with a neutral sound or as if it rhymed with nut. But
the second syllable of rib.bon (RIB.un) cannot rhyme with bun because
"-bon" is not a word or word element. See also asset, convent, despot,
product, shogun, slogan, and surplus.
        7. The letter group (zh) is used for the sound of the "s" in measure,
usual, vision, etc.; the sound of "g" in beige, regime, etc.; the sound
of "j" in jabot, joual, etc.; and the sound of "z" in azure, seizure,
        8. All other pronunciations should be read using the most common
English sounds of the syllables used in the respelling. Thus, live.long
(LIV.long), (LIVE. lee), rind (RINED), etc.
        9. When an alternative pronunciation or the pronunciation of a
derivative is shown in abbreviated form, as in
(-TAIR.uh.lee), the full pronunciation should be read as
(mil.uh.TAIR.uh.lee) based on the previous word mil.i.tar.y
( As explained above, the relative force between the
stresses of the first and third syllables of a word like
is of mainly academic importance to the dictionary user.

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