A Key To English Pronunciations

 

Pronunciations for the British and World English dictionary

The pronunciations given represent the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England (sometimes called Received Pronunciation or RP), and the example words given in this key are to be understood as pronounced in such speech.

Consonants

The letters b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, and z have their usual English values. Other symbols are used as follows:

Symbol
 
Example
ɡ
as in
get

 
chip
ʤ
 
jar
x
 
loch
ŋ
 
ring
θ
 
thin
ð
 
this
ʃ
 
she
ʒ
 
decision
j
 
yes


Vowels

Symbol
 
Example
Short vowels
 
 
a
as in
cat
ɛ
 
bed
ə
 
ago
ɪ
 
sit
i
 
cosy
ɒ
 
hot
ʌ
 
run
ʊ
 
put
Long vowels
 
 
ɑː
 
arm
ɛː
 
hair
əː
 
her

 
see
ɔː
 
saw

 
too
Diphthongs
 
 
ʌɪ
 
my

 
how

 
day
əʊ
 
no
ɪə
 
near
ɔɪ
 
boy
ʊə
 
poor
Triphthongs
 
 
ʌɪə
 
fire
aʊə
 
sour


In multisyllable words the symbol ˈ is used to show that the following syllable is stressed, as in /kəˈbal/; the symbol ˌ indicates a secondary stress, as in /ˌkaləˈbriːs/.

(ə) before /l/, /m/, or /n/ indicates that the syllable may be realized with a syllabic l, m, or n, rather than with a vowel and consonant, e.g. /ˈbʌt(ə)n/ rather than /ˈbʌtən/.

(r) indicates an r that is sometimes sounded when a vowel follows, as in drawer, cha-chaing.


Pronunciations for US English 

The pronunciations given represent a general accent of American English, without certain features particular to New England or the southern states of the U.S., and the example words given in this key are to be understood as pronounced in such speech.

US pronunciations are transcribed in two ways, in traditional respelling (as seen in the New Oxford American Dictionary) and using symbols of the IPA.

In both systems, the letters b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, and z have their usual English values. In IPA, d is also used to represent a ‘flapped t’ as in butter.
Other symbols are used as follows:

Consonants

Respelling
IPA
Example

CH

as in 'chip'
j

as in 'jar'
KH
x
 as in 'loch'
NG
ŋ
as in 'ring'
TH
θ
 as in 'thin'
TH
ð
as in 'this'
SH
ʃ
as in 'she'
ZH
ʒ
as in 'decision'
y
j
as in 'yes'
(h)w
(h)w
as in 'when'


Vowels

Respelling
IPA
Example
a
a
as in 'cɑt'
e
ɛ
as in 'bed'
ə
ə
as in 'ɑgo', 'run', 'person'
ē
i
as in 'see'
i
ɪ
as in 'sit'
i
i
as in 'cosy'
ä
ɑ
as in 'hot', 'ɑrm'
o͝o
ʊ
as in 'put', 'poor'
ô
ɔ
as in 'sɑw'
uu
as in 'too'
ī

as in 'my'
oi
ɔɪ
as in 'boy'
ā

as in 'dɑy'
ou

as in 'how'
ō

as in 'no'
e(ə)r
ɛr
as in 'hɑir'
i(ə)r
ɪr
as in 'near'


In polysyllabic words the symbol ˈ is used to show that the following syllable is stressed, as in cabal /kəˈbäl/ IPA /kəˈbɑl/. The symbol ˌ indicates a secondary stress, as in collocation /ˌkäləˈkāSHən/ IPA /kɑləˈkeɪʃən/.


Pronunciations for American English IPA 

The pronunciations given represent a general accent of American English, without certain features particular to New England or the southern states of the U.S., and the example words given in this key are to be understood as pronounced in such speech.

The letters b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, and z have their usual English values. d is also used to represent a "flapped" t, as in bitter. Other symbols are used as follows:

Consonants

Symbol
 
Example
g
as in
get

 
chip

 
jar
x
 
loch
ŋ
 
ring
θ
 
thin
ð
 
this
ʃ
 
she
ʒ
 
decision
j
 
yes
(h)w
 
when


Vowels

Symbol
 
Example
æ
as in
cat
ɛ
 
bed, hair
ə
 
ago, run, person
ɪ
 
sit, near
i
 
see, cosy
ɑ
 
hot, arm
ʊ
 
put, poor
ɔ
 
saw
u
 
too

 
my

 
how

 
day
ɔɪ
 
boy

 
no


In multisyllable words the symbol ˈ is used to show that the following syllable is stressed, as in cabal /kəˈbɑl/; the symbol ˌ indicates a secondary stress, as in coriander /ˌkɔriˈændər/.


Pronunciations for Canadian English

We can find the linguistic expression of the Canadian east-west connection at all linguistic levels.  Vowels, for instance, love to change but when they change in Canada they have been shown to rarely – for some changes never—cross the Canada-US border. For example, the ‘Canadian shift’, first detected in the mid 1990s, affects the ‘short front vowels’, i.e. the three vowels exemplified in black, pen, and tin.  In Canada these vowels move in the opposite direction to the well-established ‘Northern Cities Shift’ in parts of the United States. So in Canada, the vowel in black, for instance, is pronounced farther back in the mouth. Canadian dialects are actually diverging from the American dialects that have experienced the shift, and this despite the high levels of interaction between the two countries.

Other features include ‘Canadian raising’, the most-widely known Canadian pronunciation feature.  Canadian raising affects the diphthongs in words such as wife, price, or life and house, about, or shout. Canadian pronunciations, though far from universal, are often perceived as weef instead of wife and a boot instead of about by outsiders. There are also other, less well-known Canadian differences, such as the Canadian integration pattern of foreign sounds represented by ‘a’. In words like lava, plaza, and drama the foreign ‘a’ sound of the first vowel acquires the vowel in father in American English, is variable in British English, but has traditionally been the vowel of cat in Canadian English.


Pronunciations for Australian English

In response to a newly-developed concept of Received Pronunciation in Britain, which was closely tied to notions of social prestige, some Australian speakers modified their vowels and diphthongs in order to move them towards the British exemplars. From the 1890s, and well into the 1950s, elocution was in the air, and elocution teachers found a ready market for the teaching of British vowels and diphthongs to the socially-aspirational classes. This modified form of Australian speech came to be called Cultivated Australian.

As if in response against this new British-based Cultivated Australian, a diametrically opposed form of Australian English developed in the first part of the twentieth century. This form moved the Australian vowels and diphthongs even further away from what was now the British standard of pronunciation, and emphasized nasality, flatness of intonation, and the elision of syllables. This second modified form of Australian speech came to be called Broad Australian. While it is true that when non-Australians hear any Australian say ‘mate’ or ‘race’ they are likely to mistake the words for ‘mite’ and ‘rice’, the mishearing is most likely to occur with speakers of Broad Australian.

The majority of Australians continued to speak with the accent that had been established in the first fifty years of settlement, and this form of speech came to be known as General Australian. General Australian was now book-ended by Cultivated Australian and Broad Australian, and these forms of Australian English came to carry with them very different sets of values:

  • Cultivated Australian came to express a longing for British values and nostalgia for a country that was still regarded by many as ‘home’.
  • Broad Australian was strongly nationalistic and was seen to offer an egalitarian alternative to the British obsession with social class.

All three forms of Australian English included most of the words that had developed in the second half of the nineteenth century, including:

billy
A tin or enamel cooking pot with a lid and a wire handle, for use when camping.
swag
A traveller’s or miner’s bundle of personal belongings.
swagman
A person carrying a swag or bundle of belongings.
fossick
To search for gold in abandoned workings; to search or rummage for anything. Perhaps a variant of the midland and southern English fussock (to bustle about).
the outback
The remote and usually uninhabited inland districts of Australia.
the never-never
The unpopulated desert country of the interior of Australia; the remote outback. So named from the notion that one might never return from such remote country.
brumby
A wild or unbroken horse.
larrikin
A boisterous, often badly behaved young man.


Read more about the vocabulary of Australian English here.


Pronunciations for South African English

As a result of apartheid, there is no single, reasonably uniform South African English accent. With some exceptions, communities lived and were educated separately according to ethnic background until the 1990s. There were thus many varieties—white English-speaking SAE, white Afrikaans-speaking South African English, black African South African English, Indian South African English, Coloured South African English. But things are changing: with urban children of all backgrounds now being educated together, ethnically determined differences in South African English are tending to break down.

The South African English of English-speakers is often confused with Australian or New Zealand English. There are some common characteristics: New Zealand English and South African English both centralize the /I/ vowel, saying ‘pin’ as what sounds like ‘pun’ (while Australians tend towards ‘peen’). All three varieties pronounce other vowels further forward in the mouth than British speakers, so ‘penny’ sounds like ‘pinny’, ‘bad’ like ‘bed’, and ‘bed’ like ‘bid’. Unlike in British English, South African English consonants are pronounced crisply: glottal stops, as in ‘bu’er’ for ‘butter’, are not common.

Amongst English-speakers there is a range of pronunciation from educated ‘RP South African English’ to strongly accented South African English. Until about the 1970s, the British standard was viewed as the acme. But the variations in accent have come into their own with a growth in consciousness of, and pride in, South Africanism — local music, local products, local words, and local accents. The phrase ‘local is lekker’ (nice) sums this up.

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