This article is from the alt.usage.english FAQ, by Mark Israel firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
Beware of using ad hoc methods to indicate pronunciation. The
problem with ad hoc methods is that they often wrongly assume your
dialect to have certain features in common with the readers'
dialect. You may pronounce "bother" to rhyme with "father"; some of
the readers here don't. You may pronounce "cot" and "caught" alike;
some of the readers here don't. You may pronounce "caught" and
"court" alike; some of the readers here don't.
The standard way to represent pronunciation (used in the latest
British Dictionaries and by linguists worldwide) is the
International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For a complete guide to
the IPA, see "Phonetic Symbol Guide" by Geoffrey K. Pullum and
William A. Ladusaw (University of Chicago Press, 1986, ISBN
0-226-68532-2). IPA uses many special symbols; on the Net, where
we're restricted to ASCII symbols, we must find a way to make do.
The following scheme is due to Evan Kirshenbaum
(email@example.com). The complete scheme can be accessed on
the WWW at:
I show here only examples for the sounds most often referred to in
this newsgroup. Where there are two columns, the left column shows
British Received Pronunciation (RP), and the right column shows a
rhotic pronunciation used by at least some U.S. speakers. (There's
a WWW page that shows what the IPA symbols look like:
The IPA itself has a home page:
The consonant symbols [b], [d], [f], [h], [k], [l], [m], [n], [p],
[r], [s], [t], [v], [w], and [z] have their usual English values.
[A] = [<script a>] as in: "ah" /A:/ /A:/ "cart" /kA:t/ /kArt/ "father" /'fA:D@/ /'fA:D@r/ "farther" /'fA:D@/ /'fArD@r/ and French "bas" /bA/. This sound requires opening your mouth wide and feeling resonance at the back of your mouth. [A.] = [<turned script a>] as in British: "bother" /'bA.D@/ "cot" /kA.t/ "hot" /hA.t/ "sorry" /'sA.rI/ This symbol (for the sound traditionally called "short o") is not much used to transcribe U.S. pronunciation. [A] or [O] is used instead, according to which vowels the speaker merges; but the sound *used* by *many* such speakers will certainly be *heard* by Britons as [A.]. The sound is intermediate between [A] and [O], but typically of shorter duration than either. Imagine Patrick Stewart saying "Tea, Earl Grey, hot." [a] as in French "ami" /a'mi/, German "Mann" /man/, Italian "pasta" /'pasta/, Chicago "pop" /pap/, Boston "park" /pa:k/. Also in diphthongs: "dive" /daIv/ (yes, folks, the sound traditionally called "long i" is actually a diphthong!), "out" /aUt/. Typically, [a] is not distinguished phonemically from [A]; but if you use in "ask" a vowel distinct both from the one in "cat" and the one in "father", then [a] is what it is. [C] = [<c cedilla>] as in German (Hochdeutsch) "ich" /IC/ [D] = [<edh>] as in "this" /DIs/ [E] = [<epsilon>] as in: "end" /End/ /End/ "get" /gEt/ /gEt/ "Mary" /'mE@rI/ /'mE@ri/ "merry" /'mErI/ /'mEri/ Some U.S. speakers do not distinguish between "Mary", "merry", and "marry". [e] as in: "eight" /eIt/ /eIt/ "chaos" /'keA.s/ /'keAs/ [g] as in "get" /gEt/ [I] = [<iota>] as in "it" /It/ [I.] = [<small capital y>] as in German "Gl"uck" /glI.k/. Round your lips for [U] and try to say [I]. [i] as in "eat" /i:t/ [j] as in "yes" /jEs/ [N] = [<eng>] as in "hang" /h&N/ [O] = [<open o>] as in: "all" /O:l/ /O:l/ "caught" /kO:t/ /kO:t/ "court" /kO:t/ /kOrt/ "oil" /OIl/ /OIl/ The [O] sound requires rounded lips, but lips making a a bigger circle than for [o]. If you do not use the same vowel sound in "caught" as in "court", then you are one of the North American speakers who use [O] only before [r]: you do not round your lips for "all" and "caught", and you should use some other symbol, such as [A] or [a], to transcribe the vowel. [o] as in U.S.: "no" /noU/ "old" /oUld/ "omit" /oU'mIt/ The pure sound is heard in French "beau" /bo/. British Received Pronunciation does not use this sound, substituting the diphthong /@U/ (/n@U/, /@Uld/, /@U'mIt/). If you are one of the few speakers who distinguish such pairs as "aural" and "oral", "for" and "four", "for" and "fore", "horse" and "hoarse", "or" and "oar", "or" and "ore", then you use [O] for the first and [o] for the second word in each pair; otherwise, you use [O] for both. [R] = [<right-hook schwa>], equivalent to /@r/, /r-/, or even /V"r/ [S] = [<esh>] as in "ship" /SIp/ [T] = [<theta>] as in "thin" /TIn/ [t!] = [<turned t>] as in "tsk-tsk" or "tut-tut" /t! t!/ [U] = [<upsilon>] as in "pull" /pUl/ [u] as in "ooze" /u:z/ [V] = [<turned v>] as in British RP: "hurry" /'hVrI/ "shun" /SVn/ "up" /Vp/ U.S. speakers tend not to use [V] in words (such as "hurry") where the following sound is [r]: they would say /'h@ri/. And some U.S. speakers, especially in the eastern U.S., substitute [@] for [V] in all contexts. If you do not distinguish "mention" /'mEn S@n/ from "men shun" /'mEn SVn/, then you should use [@] and not [V] to transcribe your speech. [V"] = [<reversed epsilon>] as in: "fern" /fV":n/ /fV"rn/ "hurl" /hV":l/ /hV"rl/ Many U.S. speakers substitute [@] for [V"], so they would say /f@rn/, /h@rl/. Many other U.S. speakers pronounce "fern" with no vowel at all: /fr:n/, /hr:l/. If you are one of the few speakers who distinguish such pairs as "pearl" and "purl" (using a lower, more retracted vowel in "purl"), then you can transcribe "pearl" /p@rl/ and "purl" /pV"rl/. [W] = [<o-e ligature>] as in French "heure" /Wr/, German "K"opfe" /'kWpf@/. Round your lips for [O] and try to say [E]. [x] as in Scots "loch" /lA.x/, German "Bach" /bax/ [Y] = [<slashed o>] as in French "peu" /pY/, German "sch"on" /SYn/, Scots "guidwillie" /gYd'wIli/. Round your lips for [o] and try to say [e]. [y] as in French "lune" /lyn/, German "m"ude" /'myd@/. Round your lips for [u] and try to say [i]. [Z] = [<yogh>] as in "beige" /beIZ/ [&] = [<ash>] as in: "ash" /&S/ /&S/ "cat" /k&t/ /k&t/ "marry" /'m&rI/ /'m&ri/ [@] = [<schwa>] as in "lemon" /'lEm@n/ [?] = [<glottal>] as in "uh-oh" /V?oU/ [*] = [<fish-hook r>], a short tap of the tongue use by some U.S. speakers in "pedal", "petal", and by Scots speakers in "pearl": all /pE*@l/. If you are a U.S. speaker but distinguish "pedal" from "petal", then you do not use this sound. - previous consonant syllabic as in "bundle" /'bVnd@l/ or /'bVndl-/, "button" /bVt@n/ or /bVtn-/ ~ previous sound nasalized : previous sound lengthened ; previous sound palatalized <h> previous sound aspirated ' following syllable has primary stress , following syllable has secondary stress
Merriam-Webster American Heritage Random House Webster's New World [A] a umlaut a umlaut a umlaut a umlaut [A.] (merged with [A]) o breve o (merged with [A]) [a] a overdot (merged with [A]) A a overdot /aI/ i macron i macron i macron i macron /aU/ a u overdot ou ou ou [C] (merged with [x]) (merged with [x]) (merged with [x]) H [D] th underlined th in italics th slashed th in italics /dZ/ j j j j [E] e e breve e e /E@/ e schwa a circumflex a circumflex (merged with [e]) /eI/ a macron a macron a macron a macron [g] g g g g [I] i i breve i i [I.] ue ligature (merged with [y]) (merged with [y]) (merged with [y]) [i] e macron e macron e macron e macron [j] y y y y [N] <eng> ng ng <eng> [O] o overdot o circumflex o circumflex o circumflex /OI/ o overdot i oi oi oi ligature /oU/ o macron o macron o macron o macron [S] sh sh sh sh ligature [T] th th th th ligature /tS/ ch ch ch ch ligature [U] u overdot oo breve oo breve oo [u] u umlaut oo macron oo macron oo macron [V] (merged with [@]) u breve u u [V"] (merged with [@]) u circumflex u circumflex u circumflex [W] oe ligature oe ligature OE ligature o umlaut [x] k underlined KH KH kh ligature [Y] oe ligature macron (merged with [W]) (merged with [W]) (merged with [W]) [y] ue ligature macron u umlaut Y u umlaut [Z] zh zh zh zh ligature [&] a a breve a a [@] schwa schwa schwa schwa - superscript schwa syllabicity mark unmarked '