Monday, November 09, 2009

intro to pronunciation

everytime i see a pronunciation guide i am amazed that anyone can decipher it

there are unique sounds like rhotics and manners of articulation like fricatives and all sorts of different sounds people can make, and while i hope to learn as much as i can about them, it is tough to keep track of them all.

but this is the aim of the international phonetic alphabet (IPA): a collection of 107 unique letters with 56 tone/stress modifiers (not including the extended IPA, which covers disordered speech, like stutters and cleft palates)

IPA consists of phonemes, which are basic semantic units of speech for a specific language. IPA, being international, has a few more phonemes than english needs, but is simplified well beyond the vast sea of specific phones, which do not depend on meaning.

to clarify, a phone is a sound humans can make independent of language or meaning, where a phoneme can have a few subtle differences to sound as long as its meaning doesnt change. many phones can all be the same phoneme, and in this case are called allophones. if you have a few minutes, the first two paragraphs of wikipedia's phoneme article blew me away - concisely explaining, with examples, the difference between the two.

it may also be helpful to know that there is a much simplified version of IPA that uses only characters that can be typed and printed in any font called SAMPA (speech assessment methods phonetic alphabet) that varies from language to language but is limited to a 7-bit alphabet in each language (128 unique letters max for any non-geeks)

sometimes i see pronunciation guides in slashes and sometimes i see them in square brackets. the subtle difference is how general or particular a pronunciation is. phones are always in brackets, and strict pronunciations may be in brackets. the looser a transcription to IPA or SAMPA is, the more likely it is to be found in slashes.

I hope to do many posts about pronunciation and learn quite a bit along the way.

1 comment:

  1. From my linguistics courses I also learned that generally phonemes are found in slashes and phones, or the allophones of these phonemes are found in brackets. Phonemes are the mental concept of a sound (ex: our concept of what a "K" is) and so those go in the brackets /k/. The different sound variations of that phoneme (/k/) go into the brackets, for example the aspirated "k" typically is written as [kh](the "h" being written as a superscript). the "normal" k that we use most is often just [k], with the variations just as the aspirated "k" having the subtle marking differences to distinguish them from the "normal" [k] sound. I love linguistics!