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

Thomas Paikeday t.paikeday at SYMPATICO.CA
Sun Jun 30 04:15:16 UTC 2002

The point Rudy is trying to make seems to me a question of abstract vs.

IPA is abstract, which is as it should be since it is supposed to
represent the sounds obtaining in most human languages. Abstract
representations call for the use of a key in order to make the
transition from real to unreal (or abstract) and vice versa. It serves
purposes all right.

It seems to me it is also somewhat self-serving (and intellectually
stimulating for
what it is worth) because it has a make-work quality to it. It supports
teachers, textbooks, etc.; sorry if I sound like a patron! That is why I
lovingly refer to the COBUILD
dictionaries as "the collected teachings of the lexicographers of
Birmingham." So much time and space seems wasted.

On the other hand, the popular "phonetic" transcriptions based on
English orthography are "concrete" and represent the real world. They
have no need for a key. Having to use a key is like hiring an
interpreter who is not really needed. All that is needed is reading
knowledge at the elementary (vaguely understood as Grades 6 - 8) level,
if we can
forget for the moment about illiterate undergrads and such. It is a
process of
going from the known to the unknown, but not starting from zero
knowledge. IPA use involves learning of a higher order, but the question
is, Is it cost-effective for general (not scholarly) purposes? A side
issue is, no amount of IPA can produce
the real sounds of a language, only an abstract representation of them.
Actualization of sounds as heard is still up to the user, given the
imperfections of one's personal sound equipment. Sometimes rough
justice, as in popular phonetics, is better than justice in the

Re "root" and "rowt" to represent <route>, I see no problem if you
consider the realities of the situation, namely, sounds in context.
Words like <bellow, blow, flow, hallow, show> normally occur at the end
of words.  If the normal pronunciation can be accepted as the regular
pattern of English orthography, then <show> and other words become the
exception. (Add also words like <acknowledge>) These, in my view, should
be dealt with separately and represented as (SHOH),(ak.NOL.ij) etc.
which are phonemically quite exact. The syllable "ak," for example,
cannot be pronounced by a sixth grader as anything but the IPA ae
digraph + k.
Being unambiguous and consistent is important, but at what price, is the
question for me.

Just a few private thoughts.

(lexicographer who used IPA in the Sixties, IPA-cum-diacritics in the
Seventies, and now uses a popular phonetic system; cf. - still in preparation, the
phonetics awaiting insertion)

P.S. I am still casting about for printable symbols that are compatible
WORD or the actual processing software (Notepad?) used for text
input in website creation. Maybe there isn't any. Cf.
"lek-s&-'kä-gr&-fE" (M-W's "lexicography").
Scanning in of the text is one alternative,
I suppose). I have been using WordPerfect since before WORD came on the
scene, which is how I seem to be handicapped. Help requested.

Rudolph C Troike wrote:
> One of the problems in trying to use English orthographic re-spellings to
> indicate pronunciation is that regional pronunciations vary considerably,
> and of course there is considerable difference cross-linguistically in the
> pronunciation values attached to particular letters or combinations. This
> is why the International Phonetic Association was formed in the 19th c.,
> and why linguists use more-or-less consistent transcriptions to represent
> pronunciations. Americans for over 150 years have been shielded by
> dictionary-makers from confronting and learning a consistent phonemic
> representation, but British dictionaries have for some time utilized a
> version of the IPA system, and presumably British school-children learn
> this system, and know how to interpret it in using a dictionary. When I
> taught in Taiwan 30 years ago, I found that even 8th graders who were
> studying English as a foreign language, and struggling with the very
> concept of an alphabetic system for writing the language, were also
> expected to learn a "broad" IPA phonemic transcription at the same time.
> American innocence in this area, even after over 50 years of efforts by
> linguists, remains regrettable, and a reflection on our educational
> system.
>         Representing the different pronunciations of <route> as "root" and
> "rowt" runs afoul of the problem that the word <root> can be pronounced to
> rhyme with <foot> or <boot>, and the respelling "rowt" can be interpreted
> as reflecting the vowel of <rote> or of <rout>. A phonemic transcription
> of /ruwt/ (or /ru:t/, as some might prefer) vs /rawt/ (or again, some
> might aesthetically prefer /raUt/) has the value of being unambiguous and
> consistent (the variant transcriptions are equally clear and consistent).
>         Rudy

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