Pronunciations in the English projects

This page is for discussion of how to handle pronunciations on Wikipedia. See also Wikisound.

Relvant messages from WikiEn-l and Wikitech-l:

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The American Heritage Dictionary gives the following explanation of their pronunciation scheme:

"For most words a single set of symbols can represent the pronunciation found in each regional variety of American English. You will supply those features of your own regional speech that are called forth by the pronunciation key in this Dictionary"

And it seems like a panacea for the pronunciation problem. But it's not, because some words simply have different underlying representations in different dialects, and the system only works for dialects that are roughly the same except for a few sound changes. It fails for wildly or even mildly divergent dialects. The American Heritage Dictionary system sweeps this problem under the rug by saying "The pronunciations are exclusively those of educated speech", which, to my mind, is a cop-out, and not a satisfactory solution for Wikipedia.

However, the question of dialect remains. Obviously listing pronunciations in all possible dialects is not a reasonable solution, and indeed, nor are any of the systems used in American dictionaries. I recognize that the general task of specifying a pronunciation that speakers of any dialect will automatically speak in their dialect is not ideally handled by IPA. However, I have do not know of any system advocated by linguists other than what phonologists call "broad transcription" using IPA. Can you point me to a book or paper, written by linguists, that specifies such a system for English, and advocates its use by and for general (non-academic) readers?

I have never encoutered such a system, and I doubt that one exists. Barring the existence of a standard system, I don't really see that Wikipedia has any other options besides IPA for specifying pronunciations. Certainly I hope no one thinks Wikipedia should invent its own system. When it comes to standards, it should be our job to follow them and describe them, not create them.

So I advocate having IPA transcriptions for standard dialects (like Standard American English and Received Pronunciation), and having special pages describing how the various nonstardard dialects differ both phonetically and phonemically from the standards. I don't know much about morphophones and I'm not sure it's a concept widely accepted by linguists. -- Nohat 18:15, 11 Sep 2003 (UTC)

from WikiEn-l:

You malign ad hoc pronunciation schemes, but they do have *some* redeeming value. You can use a single ad-hoc system to represent different dialects more easily than you can use IPA for the same purpose, since users will read their own dialect into the pronunciation guide for the ad-hoc system. Still, I can't imagine making up an ad-hoc scheme for wikipedia; IPA is probably best for us. -- Adam Raizen

I agree with this criticism of IPA -- how can IPA even be remotely useful for us, given that there is no one correct phoneme mapping for nearly *any* word in the English language? Are we going to have dozens of different IPA entries for each word, representing the full range of pronunciation in the English of England (including many dialects), Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, India, the United States (including many dialects), etc.? And how about for the range of pronunciation of Chinese words within different parts of China, or countries outside China that also have significant Chinese-speaking populations? The whole thing just seems pretty useless. -- Mark (Delirium)
The nice thing about IPA is that it allows to to have a range of phonetic details. You can specify exactly where a vowel is with respect to, for example, Daniel Jones' cardinal vowels, or you can just use the plain vowel symbol, meaning it's somewhere near that vowel.
The problem is fundamentally that dialects _do_ sound different and using the system "this sound sounds like this sound in another word" breaks down eventually.
There are, however, standard dialects, and other dialects can be described in terms of those standards. Likewise, pronunciations should be presented in the standards, and speakers who are unsure how their dialect differs from the standard can view the page on their dialect.
In the cases where a word is pronounced in a dialect in a way that is not predicted by the regular differences between the dialect and the standand, then it seems only reasonable than to present that dialect's idiosyncratic pronunciation along with the standards. -- Nohat