[Lexicog] Re: Reverse dictionary

Rudy Troike rtroike at EMAIL.ARIZONA.EDU
Sun Jan 22 04:24:57 UTC 2006

I think we all appreciate John Roberts' useful and carefully-drawn
listing of various types of reverse dictionaries. Thanks also to Prof.
Sobkowiak for the additional references and access to his own remarkable
online pronunciation dictionary, which should be enormously useful.
However, I'd like to recommend the use of the Trager-Smith use of glides
with tense vowels, which is both more phonetically accurate and facilitates
the indication of historical and regional differences. Except for
Jamaicans, Scots, and Americans in the upper midwest who are descended
from Scandinavian settlers, most English speakers do not pronounce the
tense vowels as pure vowels, unlike other European languages. Even the
British dictionaries recognize the diphthongal pronunciation of the
vowels of "bait" and "boat". While the diphthongal nature of the vowels
of "beet" and "boot" is not so obvious, the history of both vowels may
be ascribed to their diphthongal origins, and current variants, both
in British and American English, show the "drift" of the first element
away from the idealized high front/back position. Especially from a
comparative viewpoint with other languages, the inclusion of the glide
with the tense vowels would be more informative and accurate:

        iy            uw
                                NB: From a purely phonemic point of view
        I             U             there would be no need to use I, U, E
                                    but the IPA tradition of using the
       ey           @w/ow           letters i, e, o for the higher vowels
                                    makes it undesirable to confuse the
        E     @      Ow             picture as the Trager-Smith system did.
                                    Also, since the mid-central schwa and
       ae     a      O              the British stressed vowel in "but" are
                                    in complementary distribution, and this
          ay    aw                  vowel is phonetically a schwa in most
             oy                     American English (as in "above"), it is
                                    misleading in an essentially phonemic
                                    representation to write them differently.
                                    If they are, then a different symbol is
                                    needed for the unstressed variant of
                                    ever vowel, to be consistent.
British dictionaries recognize the vowel of "boat" as /@w/ and the
pronunciation of /ay/ varies widely, from a monophthong [a] in the US
South to [0y] in Australian Strine. It is a separate question as to whether
it is misleading to speak of an "American English" as anything parallel to
"British English", where there is an established upper-class speech pattern
that is supraregional (though even that is changing, as the Queen's
pronunciation shows).

Incidentally, the link for Joe Futrell's reverse alphabetic dictionary
is no longer correct. I contacted him when I couldn't find it and got
this reply:

For the moment the reverse alphabetized dictionary is at

     Rudy Troike
     University of Arizona

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