American English Phonetic Transcription
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American English Phonetic Transcription

Paul Carley, Inger M. Mees

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eBook - ePub

American English Phonetic Transcription

Paul Carley, Inger M. Mees

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About This Book

American English Phonetic Transcription provides an accessible introduction to phonemic, phonetic, and intonational transcription with a focus on American English. Featuring exercises, revision tasks, and recordings to help students gain hands-on practice, the book takes a learning-by-doing approach and ensures students gain practice using each new symbol or concept introduced before moving on to the next. Consisting of three parts, the book covers:

  • transcribing individual words, including consonants, vowels, primary stress, secondary stress, syllabic consonants, and inflections;

  • transcribing phrases and sentences, including weak forms, elision, and assimilation;

  • transcribing intonation, including the structure of English intonation and recognizing pitch patterns.

Ideally suited as a standalone workbook or for use alongside British English Phonetic Transcription, American English Phonetic Transcription is key reading for undergraduate students of linguistics as well as anyone teaching or learning English as a foreign language.

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Part A

Transcribing words


THE FAMILIAR CONSONANTS /p b t d k ɡ f v s z h m n w l r/ AND THE VOWELS /ɪ æ ɛ ə ʊ/

1.1 Consonants with familiar symbols

Of the 24 English consonant phonemes /ˈfoʊˌnimz/, 16 are transcribed with symbols that are the same as letters commonly used to represent the same phonemes in normal English spelling. They are:
post, top, happy
sit, miss, city
big, job, hobby
please, zoo, maze
top, cat, watt
house, who
dog, bad, add
moon, ram, hammer
cut, look, lack, quit
now, ten, dinner
go, leg, maggot
wet, when
fit, phone, stiff
like, still
van, give
run, very, hurry, car
It’s very convenient that so many of the phonemic symbols for English consonants are like the letters used in ordinary spelling, but there are still a number of potential pitfalls to be remembered when transcribing these consonants.
1) We don’t use the letters <c>, <q> or <x> in English phonemic transcription. We don’t need them because they are used in English spelling to represent sounds that we already have phonemic symbols for: <c> is a spelling of /k/ and /s/ (e.g. cut, city), <q> is a further alternative spelling of /k/ when it occurs before /w/ (e.g. queen), and <x> usually represents /ks/ (e.g. box, extra) or /ɡz/ (e.g. exam, exist).
2) We don’t use capital letters in phonemic transcription. The symbol for a sound remains the same at the beginning of sentences, names, place-names, etc. (e.g. Tim /tɪm/, London /ˈləndən/).
3) The phonemic symbol /s/ is only used for the /s/ sound, but in ordinary spelling the letter <s> is often used for /z/ (e.g. his, these, noise, lose) as well as /s/. You must be careful when transcribing /s/ that the word you’re transcribing really does have /s/, not /z/.
4) The digraphs (two-letter spellings) <ck> and <ph> in words like back and phone represent single phonemes, /k/ in back and /f/ in phone.
5) In English, consonant letters are often doubled even though they represent a single consonant phoneme. For example, in happy, hobby, watt, add, stiff, hammer, dinner and hurry, the letters <pp>, <bb>, <tt>, <dd>, <ff>, <mm>, <nn> and <rr> represent single /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /f/, /m/, /n/ and /r/. Sequences of the same phoneme, such as /mm/ in roommate, /dd/ in midday and /nn/ in unnamed, are rare in English words and are clearly made up of separate word elements (room + mate, mid + day, un + named), each contributing one of the phonemes.
6) Naturally, there are no “silent” letters in phonemic transcription as there are in normal English spelling. Knit, for example, is transcribed /nɪt/, and debt is /dɛt/.
7) We don’t use the letter shape <g> in transcriptions. The phonemic symbol for the consonant at the beginning and end of gag is /ɡ/. On the subject of symbol shapes, note also that the symbol for the /w/ phoneme has pointed bottoms and that this is also how we write it by hand in order not to confuse it with a similar IPA symbol with rounded bottoms, namely [ɯ].
The symbols for vowels are more difficult to learn than those for consonants, so first we’ll limit ourselves to these 16 familiar consonants in this and the next chapter before introducing the remaining eight unfamiliar consonants in Chapter 3. This way we’ll be able to concentrate on transcribing each of the new vowel symbols without the distraction of any unfamiliar consonant symbols.

1.2 The kit /ɪ/ vowel

The first of the five vowels that we’ll be transcribing in this chapter is known as the kit vowel and has the phonemic symbol /ɪ/, a small version of the capital letter <I>, which is at the same height as the letters <a c e m n o r s u v w x z>. Be careful not to make this symbol too tall.
Note that in the Times New Roman font, the [ɪ] symbol isn’t very satisfactory. The serifs /ˈsɛrəfs/, the additional small lines at the ends of the main line, are an essential part of this symbol and should be more prominent. When transcribing by hand, you should give the kit /ɪ/ symbol the shape indicated on p. xxi.
In stressed syllables, the kit vowel /ɪ/ is usually spelled with the letter <i> (e.g. lip, tin) and sometimes with <y> (e.g. cyst, gym). It is spelled <e> in England, English, and pretty, <ie> in sieve, <o> in women, and <u> in busy and business (see Section 2.3 for kit in unstressed syllables).
Homophones: which, witch /wɪʧ/; gilt, guilt /ɡɪlt/; gild, guild /ɡɪld/; in, inn /ɪn/; Finn, fin /fɪn/; sick, sic /sɪk/; tic, tick /tɪk/.

Transcribe these words with the kit /ɪ/ vowel.

1) big, still, list, film, win, trip, pick, six, give, quick
2) kid, skin, hill, miss, hit, bit, risk, tip, bill, mix
3) sick, split, twin, fit, sit, hip, tin, kill, stick, lift
The key and recordings for all exercises in Part A can be downloaded at

1.3 The trap /æ/ vowel

The next vowel ...

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