Thursday, 7 January 2010
getting it wrong
Look at this chart of phonetic symbols for English (RP type). It is a pop-up that appears if you go to the BBC World Service learning English site and click on Listen to the sounds of English. Do you notice what is wrong? Compare it with the correct chart found on that page itself.
There are two discrepancies. One is that the MOUTH vowel is written as ɑʊ rather than aʊ, which is something that could perhaps even be defended as a preferable notation for the diphthong in question (though here it is unquestionably just a mistake). The other is a straightforward error: ɭ (retroflex lateral) instead of l (alveolar lateral).
Thanks to Ludwig Tan for this.
In printed materials and web pages, as well as in students’ essays and the like, the following symbol errors seem to be particularly prevalent.
• ɵ (rounded schwa, U+0275) instead of θ (voiceless dental fricative, U+03B8)
• ɤ (close-mid back unrounded vowel, U+0264) instead of ɣ (voiced velar fricative, U+0263)
• ɘ (close-mid central unrounded vowel, U+0258) instead of ə (schwa, U+0259)
• ɬ (voiceless alveolar lateral fricative, U+026C) instead of ɫ (dark l, U+026B), or vice versa.
Many years ago I put together a help page about these and other confusables.
The price of using phonetic symbols is eternal vigilance, particularly where people without phonetic training (publishers, website designers etc) are involved.