52 phonemes of English?

James A. Landau <JJJRLandau@netscape.com> JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Wed Nov 23 17:47:46 UTC 2011

Learn the 52 sounds you need to speak English correctly

On  Tue, 22 Nov 2011 15:26:34 +0000   (Tom, are you writing from London, England?)
Tom Zurinskas <truespel at HOTMAIL.COM> initiated a Topic:

>Are there 52 Phonemes of English?  I count 40.
[which reads: Learn the 52 sounds you need to speak English correctly]
Tue, 22 Nov 2011 15:32:51 +0000 (also from London)
"Gordon, Matthew J." <GordonMJ at MISSOURI.EDU> replied:

>They don't say 52 phonemes; they say 52 sounds. Those aren't the same

to which Tom Zurinskas counter-replied:

>Gotcha.  hickups is a sound too.  sneezes.  raspberries.  nose blowing.
>But not the French n, Spanish r, or Hebrew k.  Those aren't English

I have in front of me the 1963 Webster's New World Dictionary, which in the pronunciation guide on page viii
lists 46 sounds used in English.  To stay within ASCII, I will give the examples for each supposed sound:

1. fat,lap
2. ape, date
3. bare, care
4. car, father  "this synmbol represents essentially the sound of a in far but may also represent the a intermediate between 1. and 4. occasionally heard in New england for bath"
5. ten, let
6. even, meet
7. here, dear
8. over, under
9. is, hit
10. bite, mile
11. lot, top
12. go, tone
13. horn, fork
14. tool,troop
15. look, moor
16. oil, boy
17. out, doubt
18. up, cut
19. use, cute
20. fur, turn
21. [schwa] a in ago, e in agent, i in sanity, o in comply, u in focus

22. bed, dub
23. did, had
24. fail, off
25. got, dog
26. he, ahead
27. joy, jump
28. kill, bake
29. let, ball
30. met, trim
31. not, ton
32. put, tap
33. red, dear
34. sell, pass
35. top, hat
36. vat, have
37. will, always
38. yet, yard
39. zebra, haze
40. chin, arch
41. ring, drink
42. she, dash
43. thin, truth
44. then, father
45. azure, leisure
46.  [before l, m, n indicates that this consonant has formed a syllable with no appreciable vowel sound, as in apple or season]

      To the Webster's New World list above, we can add:

47. 41 needs to be split into the -ng of ring and the -nk of drink.
48. Some people such as Dennis Preston carefully distinguish the "wh" of "while", "whale" etc from the "w" of "we"
49, The above list lacks the glottal stop, very much alive in English in "uh-oh" and "unh-uh" (meaning "no")
50. Arguably not a part of English, but still encountered, the initial /ts/ of "tzadik" (Hebrew, a righteous person) and "tsetse" (African, an unrighteous insect)
51. Strictly a regional dialect item, but well-known to all naive English-speakers in the US, the Brooklyn /ui/ as in "Tuity-Tuid and Tuid Avenue"
52. Arguably not a part of English, but still encountered, the notorious /kh/ sound, in Hebrew "chai necklace", Yiddish "chutzpah", German "ach du lieber", Scottish "loch", Mexican place names such as "Oaxaca" (and "Mexico" istelf), and for some people English "ugh".  Note: this phoneme for some people is two or even three separate sounds:  after a front vowel, German "ich"; after a back vowel, German "ach"; in Spanish what always sounds to me like a half-hearted version of the German "ach" sound.

52 already, and if I felt like it I could continue, e.g. the way some English English-speakers prouncoune "very" as /eddy/.  BTW, the same thing happens in Spanish when a single "r" occurs in the middle of a word.  There is also the "rolled r", which is not actually part of English but is an affectation on the part of many English speakers.

    - James A. Landau

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

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