IPA diphthongs

LanDi Liu strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 19 14:51:43 UTC 2008

In the Sophia, Maria / what do pros do thread, Damian Hall said:

> No, we don't as far as I (white, 30s, Londoner) am aware, except in the stock
> phrase 'black Maria' for a police vehicle used to transport people from prison
> to court etc, which always has [m@ rai @].  And I'm not sure how many people
> would use _that_ any more, since it's losing what little transparency it still
> had:  'black Marias' are usually coloured white, and the 'Maria' part was never
> transparent (recently) anyway.  The girl's name is always [m@ ri: @], and it's
> always [a: vej m@ ri: @] for the Latin prayer, etc.

I'm interested in people's thought's on IPA diphthong notation.

Here, we see [ai] and [ej], and at the other extreme we sometimes see
[aI] and [eI] and even just [e].  Probably the latter ones are more
common, but I see them as less accurate.  I'm not too fond of the [j]
notation in vowels, because I see [j], [w], and [r] (used as in [rEd]
-- not the trill) as semi-plosives that feature opening movements
rather than closing movements, but I find them preferable to
diphthongs with [I] and [U] in American English.

When I see [aI] and [eI], I hear RP, but with [ai] (or with the round
a) and [ei] I hear "General American", so when people use [aI]/[eI] to
transcribe American speech, it gives me a "this is wrong" kind of

I remember reading somewhere (this was a long time ago, so I have no
idea where; if it rings a bell, please speak up) that the second
character in a diphthong shows the direction of the diphthong, and not
the destination, and that which character is used is up to personal
preference.  I know that IPA is designed to be flexible, but I also
find it disconcerting that the IPA handbook doesn't give a clue on how
to transcribe or represent diphthongs.

When I teach pronunciation here, I use [ɑi], [ei] [ou] (or [o̜u] to
contrast with the ), [oi], and [æu].  I avoid using [a] because it is
used to represent vowels all along the bottom of the vowel quadrangle,
and I want to be clear which vowels are more front and which are more
back.  Does anyone find this usage undesirable in any respect?

Randy Alexander
Jilin City, China

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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