09 July 2012 | Last updated 21 April 2016
PRONUNCIATION respelling is the alternative to the IPA and has a much longer history of use.
Editorial and other professions who work in non-linguistics fields generally don’t use the IPA, and indeed, tend to avoid it altogether.
This is because most people are normally more comfortable with ‘make-do’ pronunciation spellings — commonly found in newspapers and other non-technical writing. Pronunciation spellings make use of well-known words and spelling conventions of the mother tongue and avoid difficulties such as diacritics or non-alphabet symbols. For example, the actor Jake Gyllenhaal’s surname is—
[ˈdʒɪlənhɔːl] in IPA
jĭl′·ən·hôl in old-fashioned dictionary transcription
Jill-in-Hall in a newspaper
Most people don’t need one-to-one mapping between symbols and sounds and, for most general purposes, the IPA just hinders rather than clarifies understanding.
Pronunciation spelling vs. respelling
A pronunciation spelling is an ad hoc spelling, one done for the specific task at hand and has no standardisation. Most are one-time coinages, but some have become standardised (even institutionalised) into mainstream English and finding their way ito dictionaries:— arentcha, dontcha, fella, gonna, helluva, kinda, milord, missus, sonofabitch, sorta, ’twas, wanna, whodunnit, wot, yer, etc.
A pronunciation REspelling IS a regular phonetic respelling of a word. It does have a standard format to indicate sounds. Most monolingual dictionaries designed for native-speaker use employs pronunciation respelling. One of the more famous dictionaries that uses pronunciation respelling instead of the IPA is Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English, Third Collegiate Edition (1988).
Learn English or Starve uses both phonetic respelling and the IPA whenever possible. Failing that, we make do with newspaper-style pronunciation spelling because, honestly speaking, most people find it’s good enough. After all, this is a blog — not a flippin’ linguistics textbook or dictionary or a peer-reviewable research paper. Wakey wakey!
Traditional Respelling Symbols
Below is a generic list of pronunciation respelling symbols commonly used in most monolingual dictionaries for native English speakers. The sounds are based on a compromise and dialect-neutral English pronunciation. Most adhere to the one-symbol-per-sound principle.
Remember, no transcription system is ever accurate and can only approximate the sounds spoken. The most accurate way is to listen to an audio file.
As you can see, symbols without diacritics are very easy to write and type.
(IPA in square brackets. BrE = British English. GA = General American)
b [b] — bay, back, baby, job
ch [tʃ] — church, match, nature
d [d] — day, ladder, odd
f [f] — fun, fat, coffee, rough, photo
h [h] — hat, hot, whole, ahead
hw [hw] — when (N BrE), where (GA cf. BrE), which, why (GA cf. BrE) : see also w (below)
j [dʒ] — judge, age, soldier, garbage
(χ) or KH [x] — loch (Scottish) (“hard kh”)
kh [x] — gog (Welsh) (“soft kh”)
hl [ɬ] — llan (Welsh)
g [g] — game, tag, regal, get, giggle, ghost
k [k] — king, key, clock, school
l [l] — light, valley, feel
m [m] — more, hammer, sum
n [n] — nice, know, funny, sun
ng [ŋ] — gnocchi (Italian), ring, anger, thanks, sung
p [p] — pay, pen, copy, happen
r [r] — right, wrong, sorry, arrange, ‘luser‘
s [s] — simple, soon, cease, sister
hs — hsia (Chinese), Xerxes (“teethy s”)
sh [ʃ] — ship, sure, dish, ration, national
t [t] — talk, tea, tight, button
th [θ] — thin, thing, thigh, author, path, beneath (“soft th”)
dh [ð] — this, thy, other, smooth (“hard th”)
v [v] — vine, view, heavy, move
w [w] — way, one, queen, when, where (BrE cf. GA), which, why (BrE cf. GA) : see also hw (above)
y [j] — yes, use, beauty, few
z [z] — zoo, zero, music, roses, pleasure (BrE), fusion (GA, science), fission (GA, science), vision (GA), buzz
(IPA in square brackets. BrE = British English. GA = General American.)
a [a] — ami (French)
ă or a [æ] — pat, lad, cat, fat, rat, trap, bed
ā or ai [eɪ] — pay, day, face, break
ār or air [eə or ɛər | GA: ɛr] — care, hair, there, square, fair, various
ah or aa [ɑː | GA: ɑ] — father, palm, calm, start
ar or aar or ahr [ɑr] — arm
ě or eh [e or ε] — let, head, dress, bed, many
ē or ee or iy [iː | GA: i] — bee, see, fleece, sea, machine, happy, radiate, glorious
ēr or eer or ihr [ɪə or ɪər | GA: ɪr] — pier, near, here, weary
ǐ or i [ɪ] — pit, bid, city, kit, hymn, minute
ī or eye [aɪ] — item, pie, price, high, by, my, try
ǒ or o [ɒ] — odd, orr, lot, pot, not, wash, wasp
ō or oh [oʊ or əʊ] — toe, no, goat, show
aw [ɔː | GA: ɔ] — caught, law, paw, thought, north (GA), war (GA)
awr [ɔr] — north (BrE), war (esp. BrE)
awr or ohr [ɔər | GA: or] — force, wore
oi or oy [ɔɪ] — noise, boy, choice, buoy (BrE ‘bwoy’ cf. GA ‘boo-iy’)
oo or uu [ʊ | GA: ᴜ] — took, put, foot, good
oor or uhr [ʊə or ʊər | GA: ᴜr] — tour, poor, jury, cure
oo or uw [uː | GA: u] — boot, soon, through, goose, two, blue, group, thank you, influence, situation
ow [aʊ | GA: aᴜ] — out, now, mouth
ǔ or uh [ʌ] — cut, strut, mud, blood, love, run, enough
er or ər or ur [ɝː or ɜr | GA: ɜr] — urge, term, firm, word, heard, learn, bird, nurse, stir, refer
uh [ə] — about, item, gallop, circus, about, common, standard
uh or i (BBC) [ɨ | GA: ɪ or ə] — rabbit, edible, garbage (‘gahbij’)
uhl [l̩] —middle, metal (“l with under-dot”)
uhn [n̩] — suddenly, cotton (“n with under-dot”)
er or uhr [ər | GA: ɚ] — butter, winner
ū or yoo or yuw or ew or iew [juː | GA: ju] — pupil (‘piewpul’)
oe [øː or œ | GA: œ] — feu (French), schön (German), zwölf (German)
ue [yː or ʏ | GA: y] — tu (French), über (German)
awɴ or o(ng) [ɔ̃ | GA: õ] — bon (French)
Traditional respelling system don’t usually indicate stress or glottal stops; the objective is simply to present an intuitive manner for the reader to deduce pronunciation (rather than giving a precise representation). When respelling does give stress indicators, these are the conventions:—
a– or á [ˈa | GA: ˋa] — primary (tonic) stress
(a–) or à [ˌa | GA: ˊa] — secondary stress
(a-) [a] — tertiary stress (no indicator)
(glottal stop: not indicated) [ʔ] — department, football
English Phonetic Transcription Converter | Project Modelino
A straightforward free only converter from normal English into generic IPA. Maximum 700 words for unregistered/guest users.
PhoTransEdit – English Phonetic Transcription Editor | PhoTransEdit.com
Another free online converter that outputs a choice of Received Pronunciation (BrE) or General American (AmE) transcription. Max. 300 characters (not words).
Learn to speak lolcat: the lolcat translator | speaklolcat.com
Learn to speak lolcat — the language of all animals, not just cats, dogs, kittens and puppies. Communicate with your pet dog or cat. Docta dolittle eat ur hart out!
© Learn English or Starve, 09 July 2012. Last updated 21 Apr 2016.
Created and published 09 July 2012
Updated 10 July 2012 (minor typographic fixes)
Updated 21 Nov 2012 (minor amendments, extra text on respelling, typo fixes, link fixes)
Updated 26 May 2014 (link updates)
Updated 14 Aug 2015 (link updates, minor amendments)
Updated 21 Apr 2016 (format fixes)