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

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Jul 3 01:26:09 UTC 2002

>Well, the long answer below, which admits that "cot" and "caught"
>are only rarely distinguished, speaks for itself. All civilized
>speakers make the distinction.

But seriously folks, these respelling matters are more than a little
worth attention. I devised a system in the 70's to let unphoneticized
speakers of American English approximate Polish pronunciations
(against my grain, of course, but I was encouraged to do it). Rudy's
point made earlier, which I have a great deal of sympathy for, was,
quite simply, that Americans are so badly educated linguistically
that I could not rely on an even minimal knowledge of a phonetic
alpahbet. (Even academics, in discourse analysis,for example, have
told me (and told others about me in print) that the "burden" on
ethnomethodologists to learn a phonetic alphabet [when they provide
unintelligible respellings!] would be too great). So, if we keep
making up bad systems (and the "annotations" surely show how really
awful they are), we have only ourselves to blame.


>On Tue, 2 Jul 2002, Thomas Paikeday wrote:
>#This is what I call taking the bull by the horns. My answers are
>#interspersed below right after the questions. Thanks for asking.
>Thanks for the explanation. I now understand much better the context of
>this system.
>#On the defensive, I'd say the system is tailored to the needs of the
>#popular user, not for academics.
>Clear enough, and agreed. -- Without quoting or remarking on your whole
>post, I'll agree that it's appropriate to that purpose, although
>definitely not for describing pronunciations on this list.
>         [Mark M.]
>#> 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.
>For a dictionary, "system for system's sake" may be an appropriate
>dismissal. For a speech recognition company, though, system is
>absolutely essential. We *had* to provide for users to say "Pierre" and
>"Khrushchev"  (as both /'krus.CEv/ and /'kruS.CEv/, and maybe /kruS.COf/
>as well -- C and S are c/s-hacek, E and O low-mid), and a whole slew of
>other non-English words and, especially, names.
>#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").
>Ah. This "shoehorn", as exemplified below in your reply, is what I
>didn't recall seeing in the earlier discussion. Extranotational
>annotation, like mine above for "Khrushchev", can cover anything. In
>this case, you rely on it (appropriately, imho) to cover distinctions
>not made by the respelling.
>#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.
>Agreed, these would be wholly excessive for your purpose.
>#> 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.
>My bad example. I meant the distinction between the nuclei, which is
>made by your annotations:
>         suit    SOOT (with long "oo")
>         soot    SOOT (with short "oo")
>  -- yes?
>#> 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.
>Now, here's a problem. Discussion below, after the quote of your summary
>of principle.
>#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.
>I understand your argument, and I suppose you're right about "most
>users". But presumably the reason your users consult the pronunciations
>is that they don't know how to pronounce a particular word. Your use of
>"normally" suggests that the cot/caught distinction is exceptional, so
>far outside the (descriptive) norm that you're justified in generally
>dismissing it. If a user speaks a dialect that maintains the
>distinction, how is she supposed to know from your merged respelling
>which vowel to use in an unfamiliar word?
>To take a more plausible example than "cot" and "caught", imagine a New
>York City high school junior looking up the unfamiliar words "sot" and
>"fraught" (more likely to be unfamiliar than the minimal example
>"sought"). The "o" respelling will tell her, misleadingly, that she
>should rhyme them. How is she to know otherwise?
>-- Mark A. Mandel
>    Linguist at Large

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics and Languages
740 Wells Hall A
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027 USA
Office - (517) 353-0740
Fax - (517) 432-2736

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