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Dictionary:Well-Enunciated American English

Definition from Dictionary, a free dictionary
There are two ways of being happy: We must either diminish our wants or augment our means—either may do—the result is the same and it is for each man to decide for himself and to do that which happens to be easier.
Benjamin Franklin
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N.B. This is not intended as a neutral-POV dictionary entry. It documents a specific accent and can be referenced to show what is meant by particular uses of IPA symbols (see Purpose below).

This is a reference for the consistent documentation of American English pronunciations. Perhaps, if enough people contribute, a word may show pronunciations not just for British and American, but for Southern British, Estuary, Australian Outback, New York, Los Angeles, Texas, and many others including things like “foreign accent” (which would be handy for actors, I suppose).

If someone writes “American”, a reader cannot know if the writer is being specific to Texas, or the US west coast, etc. This page attempts to document what is meant, and it is noted as “WEAE” with a pointer to this page. Naturally, many other pronunciations may be listed alongside it as well.

See also: General American English with maximal distinctions.

Quick reference

These guide words will help you understand what each symbol means.

Vowels

IPA examples AHD Comments
i bead, seed, pea, lead, queen "long E" ē
e pray, gray/grey, stay, grade, fade, jay, paid "long A" ā Some dialects always diphthong-ize this sound to some extent, written as /eɪ/. WEAE uses the canonical /e/ for this sound, though some pronounce it as /eɪ/, /ɛi/, or somewhere between these extremes.
ɪ bid "short I" ĭ
ɛ bed "short E" ĕ
æ bad "short A" ă
ʊ good o͝o
u booed o͞o
ə "schwa" ə indistinct sound, see explanation below.
ɚ bird ər, ûr This sound has certain qualities of a vowel, and noting it as a distinct symbol helps to understand the difference between Southern British (r-dropping) pronunciation and American. It also helps guide syllable breaking, in that /ɚ/ is not broken accross syllables. AHD also notes distinct symbols for the sound in "care" /kɛɹ/ and "pier" /pɪɹ/ but WEAE treats the R sound as any other consonant here.
ʌ bud "short U" ŭ
ɑ pod ä
ɔ law, caught ô
o bode "long O" ō Some dialects always diphthongize this sound to some extent, written as /əʊ/. WEAE uses the canonical /o/ for this sound, though some pronounce it as /ʌu/, /oʌ/, /oʊ/, etc.
like "long I" ī May be pronounced more like /ɑi/. Some dialects un-diphthongize this to /ɑ/ (e.g., Southern Drawl).
ɔɪ boy oi Pronounced more like /oɪ/, but WEAE uses the canonical symbol /ɔɪ/ for this sound.
loud ou

Here is a trapezoid showing the IPA vowel space, and the placement of symbols within it. Most of the vowels and combinations happen to make legal words when placed between l and k sounds.

L-words.png

Correction: in the diagram, low/locate is shown as a region-specific diphthong. In WEAE, this sound uses the canonical symbol /o/. lake should use the canonical symbol /e/. Lure is shown as a dipthtong in the illustration, but WEAE doesn’t treat /ʊə/ as a distinct symbol with a canonical meaning. It’s just /ʊ/ followed by a connector to smoothly articulate the /ɹ/. The drawing uses /r/ instead of /ɹ/. Will repost image later...

Consonants

IPA examples AHD Comments
b bib b
ʧ church ch
d did d
f fun, phone f
g gate, angle g The "hard" G sound
ʤ John, fudge j The "soft" G sound or J sound. In English, /ʤ/ is considered a distinct consonant, though it can also be written as the separate symbols /d/ and /ʒ/.
h hot h In addition to being a normal consonant sound, /hw/ is the same as /wʰ/, the aspiration of the other consonant, as in the difference between "witch" /wɪtʃ/ and "which" /hwɪtʃ/.
ʒ pleasure, vision zh
j yet, soy y This does not resemble its role in English spelling.
k crack k
l lip, pail, milk l
l L with a mark below — The L as a distinct syllable in itself
m mice, calm m
n plan, nice n
similar to 'n N with a dot below — The N as a distinct syllable in itself
ŋ ring ng
p pop p
ɹ rest, roar, rear r This is the proper IPA symbol for the English R sound. /r/ is the trilled R as in Spanish.
ɾ thirty Don’t confuse the fishook character /ɾ/ with the /r/. The latter is not used in English. This is a "tap", the indistinct sound that’s somewhat like a 'd' or a 't'. This is rare in "well enunciated" speech, since to enunciate the /d/ or /t/ will be clear.
s sip, fleece, sauce s
ʃ should, wash sh
t tap, hat t
ð this, leather th
θ theta, thing, teeth th
v very, love v
w way, woman w When the sound is used in the role of a consonant. As a vowel it’s /u/
z zip, please z

Odds and ends

Purpose

The IPA notation allows for either great precision or great latitude in documenting the sounds of a word. If too precise, it encodes the regional accent and uses lots of symbols and modifiers, making it hard to read. If used loosely, there must be some statement as to how the “fuzzy” groupings are combined and which symbols are used for the archetypes of those roughly-defined sounds. This document serves that purpose.

This is the way I use IPA notation in the words I write pronunciations for. They will link to this document, so the reader will know how I use IPA, exactly.

Concepts

General

This is what the IPA calls a “broad” transcription. Specifically, it doesn’t show nuances of subtle differences in sounds when they are not significant in speech.

By Well-Enunciated I mean that sounds are not dropped or altered. For example, in many contexts the is generally spoken as /ð/, barely more than a bare consonant. With full enunciation, it is /ðʌ/ or /ðiː/. ... more and better examples ...

Besides pronouncing vowels differently, regional accents differ in which vowel sounds they merge or which syllables they drop. This description will show the pronunciation without these omissions, as if the word were being pronounced very carefully. It is an ideal, and may only be heard in all its glory when pronouncing words carefully in isolation—in flowing speech sounds will become smeared together, and parts may be left out.

For example, why is carefully enunciated as /ʍaɪ/ (the /ʍ/ is the same as /hw/), but in flowing speech it may be pronounced without the aspiration (the sudden exhalation), as /waɪ/. Respecting all these nuances is the very definition of “well enunciated”.

If you had to tell someone one of the two words, cot or caught, without any context around it, could your listener tell which you said? If spoken carefully with the intent of enunciating the word, so it can be distinguished out of context, you would voice a difference between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/, even if in normal speech they sounded exactly alike.

... when more subtlety is needed ...

Vowels

The vowels are based on the Illustration of American English in the Handbook of the IPA. The author of the section, Peter Ladefoged, notes that his documentation was of California English, and other regions are less extreme and have more vowels.

Roaming ʌ and ə

In the Illustration, Ladefoged doesn’t include /ə/ in his vowel space drawing because “its quality varies considerably.” So much for /ə/ being the mid-central vowel, the very center of the space! In this WEAE notation, the symbol ə is used only for a nondescript vowel, just enough there to allow the smooth transition between the sounds to either side. The exact sound is implied by the route of the smooth transition. These are often words that people have trouble spelling because they are not sure what the vowel is! It’s just a filler.

Ladefoged’s chart also shows the ʌ symbol in the middle of the chart, where the cardinal ɐ appears on the generic IPA vowel chart. The cardinal ʌ is to the right (back of the mouth) and farther up (mouth more closed).

After discussing this with others who use IPA, it appears that the common practice is to keep the same symbol even though the sound has changed over time or location, because it still fills the same role in the language. In general, with the broad transcription the symbols should not change but your interpretation of each symbol does, based on your accent.

ʌ vs. ɔ

In this WEAE notation, ʌ is used when filling the role of the vowel in cup, supper, etc. and will vary by geographic region. The symbol ɔ is used when an open-mid, back vowel sound is specifically called for. For example, lug and log sound different if well-enunciated, no matter which coast you are on.

Diphthongs

A similar situation exists with the diphthongs. The symbol is universally written as /ɔɪ/ even though it may sound like /oi/, both ends being more extreme. How you say boy will vary by region, but it should be nearly the same as the diphthong in coil or Lloyd. In flowing speech, the two ends of the diphthong will move toward a nice connection with the sounds to either side.

The sounds of the diphthong can vary considerably, with the only real provision being that the glide is in the right general direction and that the six common diphthongs sound different from each other.

Examples

Some extended examples may help the reader.

“I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud”

Transcription and annotations copyright 2003 by John M. Długosz, may use freely with attribution

Written at Town-end, Grasmere. The Daffodils grew and still grow on the margin of Ullswater and probably may be seen to this day as beautiful in the month of March, nodding their golden heads beside the dancing and foaming waves.


I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high over* vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

aɪ wɑn.dɚd loːn.liː æz eː klaʊd

ðæt floːts ɑn haɪ oː.vɚ veːlz æn hɪlz
hwɛn ɔːl æt wʌns aɪ sɔ eː kraʊd
eː hoːst, ʌv goːldn̩ ˈdæ.foːˌdɪlz
biː.saɪd ðə leːk, biː.niːθ ðə tɹiːz
ˈflʌ.tɚ.ɪŋ ænd ˈdæn.sɪŋ ɪn ðə bɹiːz

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance#,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

kʌnˈtɪn.juː.ʌs æz ðə stɑɹz ðæt ʃaɪn

ænd twɪnkl̩ ɑn ðe ˈmɪl.kiː weː
ðeː strɛtʃd ɪn ˈnɛ.vɚ ˈɛn.dɪŋ laɪn
əˈlɔŋ ðə maɹ.ʤɪn ʌv ʌ beː
tɛn θaʊ.zɪnd sɔ aɪ æt eː glæns
tɔː.sɪŋ ðɛɹ hɛdz ɪn spɹaɪt.liː dæns

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

ðə weːvz biːˈsaɪd ðɛm dænsd, bʌt ðeː

aʊt dɪd ðə spʌɹ.klɪŋ weːvz ɪn gliː
eː poː.ɛt kʊd nɑt bʌt biː geː
ɪn sʊtʃ eː ˈʤɑ.kənd kʌm.pə.niː
aɪ geːzd, ænd geːzd, bʌt lɪtl̩ θɔːt
hwʌt wɛlθ ðʌ ʃoː tuː miː hæd bɹɔːt

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills&,
And dances with the daffodils.

foːɹ ɔːft, hwɛn ɑn maɪ kaʊtʃ aɪ laɪ

ɪn veː.knt oːɹ ɪn ˈpɛn.sɪv muːd
ðeː flæʃ ʌˈpɑn ðæt ɪn.wɚd aɪ
hwɪtʃ ɪz ðʌ blɪs ʌv sɑ.lɪ.tuːd
ænd ðen maɪ hɑrt wɪθ ˈplɛ.ʒɚ fɪlz
ænd ˈdæn.sɪz wɪθ ðiː ˈdæ.foːˌdɪlz

Footnotes

* Actually written “o’er” in the original.

# Understand this with the normal English word order, “I saw 10000 at a glance.”

◈ “a” is formally [eː] but is often heard as [ə] or [ʌ] in casual speech. In the poem, the [ʌ] sounds best here, though normally the proper form is shown since we are teaching proper diction here.

◐ “the” is either [ðʌ] or [ðiː] depending on what follows.

& Normal English word order: “And then my heart fills with pleasure.”

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