Sunday, November 20, 2016



The vowels of English differ considerably between dialects. Because of this, corresponding vowels may be transcribed with various symbols depending on the dialect under consideration. When considering English as a whole, no specific phoneme symbols are picked over others; instead lexical sets are used, each named by a word containing the vowel in question. For example, the vowel of the LOT set ("short O") is transcribed /ɒ/ in Received Pronunciation, /ɑ/ in General American, and /ɔ/ in Australian English. For an overview of the correspondences see IPA chart for English dialects.
Monophthongs of Received Pronunciation[1]







Monophthongs of Australian English






The monophthong phonemes of General American differ in a number of ways from Received Pronunciation:
1.   Vowels are more equal in length, differing mainly in quality.
2.   The central vowel of nurse is rhotic /ɝ/ or a syllabic /ɹ̩/.
3.   Speakers make a phonemic distinction between rhotic /ɚ/ and non-rhotic /ə/
4.   No distinction is made between /ɒ/ and /ɑ/, nor for many people with /ɔ/.
Reduced vowels occur in unstressed syllables.
  • [ɨ]: roses (merged with [ə] in Australian English)
  • [ə]: Rosa’s, runner
  • [l̩]: bottle
  • [n̩]: button
  • [m̩]: rhythm
English diphthongs









/eː/ ²


1.   Canadian English, exhibits allophony of /aʊ/ and /aɪ/ called Canadian raising. The phenomenon also occurs (especially for /aɪ/) in many US speakers, in South Atlantic English, and in the Fens.
2.   In Received Pronunciation, the vowels in lair and lure may be monophthongized to [ɛː] and [oː] respectively.[2] Australian English speakers more readily monophthongize the former but it is listed here anyway.
3.   In Rhotic dialects, words like pair, poor, and peer can be analyzed as diphthongs, although other descriptions analyze them as vowels with /ɹ/ in the coda.[citation needed]

Transcription variants

The choice of which symbols to use for phonemic transcriptions may reveal theoretical assumptions or claims on the part of the transcriber. English 'lax' and 'tense' vowels are distinguished by a synergy of features, such as height, length, and transition (monophthong vs. diphthong); different traditions in the linguistic literature emphasize different ones. For example, if the primary feature is thought to be vowel height, then the non-reduced vowels of General American English may be represented as follows:
General American full vowels,
vowel height distinctive


ɚ, ə

If, on the other hand, vowel length is considered to be the deciding factor, the following symbols may be chosen:
General American full vowels,
vowel length distinctive



(This convention has sometimes been used because the publisher did not have IPA fonts available, though that is seldom an issue any longer.)
If vowel transition is taken to be paramount, then the chart may look like one of these:
General American full vowels,
vowel transition distinctive



General American full vowels,
vowel transition distinctive








(The transcriber at left assumes that there is no phonemic distinction between semivowels and approximants, so that /ej/ is equivalent to /eɪ̯/.)
Many linguists combine more than one of these features in their transcriptions, suggesting they consider the phonemic differences to be more complex than a single feature.

Distribution of allophones

Although regional variation is very great across English dialects, some generalizations can be made about pronunciation in all (or at least the vast majority) of English accents:
Initial-stress-derived nouns mean that stress changes in many English words came about between noun and verb senses of a word. For example, a rebel [ˈɹɛ.bɫ̩] (stress on the first syllable) is inclined to rebel [ɹɪ.ˈbɛɫ] (stress on the second syllable) against the powers that be. The number of words using this pattern as opposed to only stressing the second syllable in all circumstances doubled every century or so, now including the English words object, convict, and addict.
  • The voiceless stops /p t k/ are aspirated at the beginnings of words (for example tomato) and at the beginnings of word-internal stressed syllables (for example potato).
  • A distinction is made between tense and lax vowels in pairs like beet/bit and bait/bet, although the exact phonetic implementation of the distinction varies from accent to accent. However, this distinction collapses before [ŋ].
  • For many people, /r/ is somewhat labialized in some environments, as in reed [ɹʷiːd] and tree [tɹʷiː]. In the latter case, the [t] may be slightly labialized as well.[3]
  • Wherever /r/ originally followed a tense vowel or diphthong (in Early Modern English) a schwa offglide was inserted, resulting in centering diphthongs like [iə] in beer [biəɹ], [uə] in poor [puəɹ], [aɪə] in fire [faɪəɹ], [aʊə] in sour [saʊəɹ], and so forth. This phenomenon is known as breaking. The subsequent history depends on whether the accent in question is rhotic or not: In non-rhotic accents like RP the postvocalic [ɹ] was dropped, leaving [biə, puə, faɪə, saʊə] and the like (now usually transcribed [bɪə, pʊə] and so forth). In rhotic accents like General American, on the other hand, the [əɹ] sequence was coalesced into a single sound, a non-syllabic [ɚ], giving [biɚ, puɚ, faɪɚ, saʊɚ] and the like (now usually transcribed [bɪɹ, pʊɹ, faɪɹ, saʊɹ] and so forth). As a result, originally monosyllabic words like those just mentioned came to rhyme with originally disyllabic words like seer, doer, higher, power.
  • In many (but not all) accents of English, a similar breaking happens to tense vowels before /l/, resulting in pronunciations like [piəɫ] for peel, [puəɫ] for pool, [peəɫ] for pail, and [poəɫ] for pole.
  • In many dialects, /h/ becomes [ç] before [j], as in human [ˈçjuːmən].


Note: This information applies to RP. Other than variations in the possible onsets with or without final /j/, and the presence or absence of the phoneme /ʍ/, it also applies to the other main varieties of English. /ʍ/ only occurs syllable-initial and does not occur in clusters.

[edit] Syllable structure

The syllable structure in English is (C)(C)(C)V(C)(C)(C)(C), with a maximal example being strengths (/strɛŋkθs/, although it can be pronounced /strɛŋθs/).


There is an on-going sound change (yod-dropping) by which /j/ as the final consonant in a cluster is being lost. In RP, words with /sj/ and /lj/ can usually be pronounced with or without this sound, e.g., [suːt] or [sjuːt]. For some speakers of English, including some British speakers, the sound change is more advanced and so, for example, in General American /j/ is also not present after /n/, /l/, /s/, /z/, /θ/, /t/ and /d/. In Welsh English it can occur in more combinations, for example in /tʃj/.
The following can occur as the onset:
All single consonant phonemes except /ŋ/

Plosive plus approximant other than /j/:
/pl/, /bl/, /kl/, /ɡl/,
/pr/, /br/, /tr/*, /dr/*, /kr/, /ɡr/,
/tw/, /dw/, /ɡw/, /kw/
play, blood, clean, glove, prize, bring, tree*, dream*, crowd, green, twin, dwarf, language, quick
Voiceless fricative plus approximant other than /j/:
/fl/, /sl/,
/fr/, /θr/, /ʃr/,
/sw/, /θw/
floor, sleep, friend, three, shrimp, swing, thwart
Consonant plus /j/:
/pj/, /bj/, /tj/, /dj/, /kj/, /ɡj/,
/mj/, /nj/, /fj/, /vj/, /θj/,
/sj/, /zj/, /hj/, /lj/
pure, beautiful, tube, during, cute, argue, music, new, few, view, thurifer, suit, Zeus, huge, lurid
/s/ plus voiceless plosive:
/sp/, /st/, /sk/
speak, stop, skill
/s/ plus nasal:
/sm/, /sn/
smile, snow
/s/ plus voiceless fricative:
/s/ plus voiceless plosive plus approximant:
/spl/, /spr/, /spj/, /smj/,
/str/, /stj/,
/skl/, /skr/, /skw/, /skj/
split, spring, spew, smew, street, student, sclerosis, scream, square, skewer
* In General American, /tr/ and /dr/ tend to affricate, so that tree resembles "chree", and dream "jream".[4][5][6] This may be transcribed as [tʃr] and [dʒr] respectively, but the pronunciation varies and may, for example, be closer to [tʂ] and [dʐ][7] or with a fricative release similar in quality to the rhotic, ie. [tɹ̝̊ɹ̥], [dɹ̝ɹ], or [ʈʂɻ], [ɖʐɻ].
Note: A few onsets occur infrequently making it uncertain whether they are native pronunciations or merely non-assimilated borrowings, e.g. /pw/ (pueblo), /bw/ (bwana), /sv/ (svelt), /sr/ (Sri Lanka), /ʃw/ (schwa), /ʃm/ (schmuck), and /sfr/ (sphragistics).


The following can occur as the nucleus:




Most, and in theory all, of the following except those which end with /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/ or /dʒ/ can be extended with /s/ or /z/ representing the morpheme -s/z-. Similarly most, and in theory all, of the following except those which end with /t/ or /d/ can be extended with /t/ or /d/ representing the morpheme -t/d-.
The following can occur as the coda:
The single consonant phonemes except /h/, /w/, /j/ and, in non-rhotic varieties, /r/

Lateral approximant + plosive: /lp/, /lb/, /lt/, /ld/, /lk/
help, bulb, belt, hold, milk
In rhotic varieties, /r/ + plosive: /rp/, /rb/, /rt/, /rd/, /rk/, /rɡ/
harp, orb, fort, beard, mark, morgue
Lateral approximant + fricative or affricate: /lf/, /lv/, /lθ/, /ls/, /lʃ/, /ltʃ/, /ldʒ/
golf, solve, wealth, else, Welsh, belch, indulge
In rhotic varieties, /r/ + fricative or affricate: /rf/, /rv/, /rθ/ /rs/, /rʃ/, /rtʃ/, /rdʒ/
dwarf, carve, north, force, marsh, arch, large
Lateral approximant + nasal: /lm/, /ln/
film, kiln
In rhotic varieties, /r/ + nasal or lateral: /rm/, /rn/, /rl/
arm, born, snarl
Nasal + homorganic plosive: /mp/, /nt/, /nd/, /ŋk/
jump, tent, end, pink
Nasal + fricative or affricate: /mf/, /mθ/ in non-rhotic varieties, /nθ/, /ns/, /nz/, /ntʃ/, /ndʒ/, /ŋθ/ in some varieties
triumph, warmth, month, prince, bronze, lunch, lounge, length
Voiceless fricative + voiceless plosive: /ft/, /sp/, /st/, /sk/
left, crisp, lost, ask
Two voiceless fricatives: /fθ/
Two voiceless plosives: /pt/, /kt/
opt, act
Plosive + voiceless fricative: /pθ/, /ps/, /tθ/, /ts/, /dθ/, /dz/, /ks/
depth, lapse, eighth, klutz, width, adze, box
Lateral approximant + two consonants: /lpt/, /lfθ/, /lts/, /lst/, /lkt/, /lks/
sculpt, twelfth, waltz, whilst, mulct, calx
In rhotic varieties, /r/ + two consonants: /rmθ/, /rpt/, /rps/, /rts/, /rst/, /rkt/
warmth, excerpt, corpse, quartz, horst, infarct
Nasal + homorganic plosive + plosive or fricative: /mpt/, /mps/, /ndθ/, /ŋkt/, /ŋks/, /ŋkθ/ in some varieties
prompt, glimpse, thousandth, distinct, jinx, length
Three obstruents: /ksθ/, /kst/
sixth, next
Note: For some speakers, a fricative before /θ/ is elided so that these never appear phonetically: /fɪfθ/ becomes [fɪθ], /siksθ/ becomes [sikθ], /twelfθ/ becomes [twelθ].

Syllable-level rules

  • Both the onset and the coda are optional
  • /j/ at the end of an onset (/pj/, /bj/, /tj/, /dj/, /kj/, /fj/, /vj/, /θj/, /sj/, /zj/, /hj/, /mj/, /nj/, /lj/, /spj/, /stj/, /skj/) must be followed by /uː/ or /ʊə/
  • Long vowels and diphthongs are usually not followed by /ŋ/
  • /ʊ/ is rare in syllable-initial position
  • Stop + /w/ before /uː, ʊ, ʌ, aʊ/ are excluded[8]
  • Sequences of /s/ + C1 + + C1, where C1 is the same consonant in both the onset cluster and the coda and is a short vowel, are virtually nonexistent[9]

Word-level rules

  • /ə/ does not occur in stressed syllables
  • /ʒ/ does not occur in word-initial position in native English words although it can occur syllable-initial, eg /trɛʒə(ɹ)/
  • /θj/ occurs in word-initial position in a few obscure words: thew, thurible, etc.; it is more likely to appear syllable initial, e.g. /ɛnθjuz/
  • /m/, /n/, /l/ and, in rhotic varieties, /r/ can be the syllable nucleus (ie a syllabic consonant) in an unstressed syllable following another consonant, especially /t/, /d/, /s/ or /z/
  • Certain short vowel sounds, called checked vowels, cannot occur without a coda in a single syllable word. In RP, the following short vowel sounds are checked: /ɛ/, /æ/, /ɒ/ and /ʌ/.


Stress is phonemic in English. For example, the words desert and dessert are distinguished by stress, as are the noun a record and the verb to record. Stressed syllables in English are louder than non-stressed syllables, as well as being longer and having a higher pitch. They also tend to have a fuller realization than unstressed syllables.
Examples of stress in English words, using boldface to represent stressed syllables, are holiday, alone, admiration, confidential, degree, and weaker. Ordinarily, grammatical words (auxiliary verbs, prepositions, pronouns, and the like) do not receive stress, whereas lexical words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) must have at least one stressed syllable.
English is a stress-timed language. That is, stressed syllables appear at a roughly steady tempo, and non-stressed syllables are shortened to accommodate this.
Traditional approaches describe English as having three degrees of stress: Primary, secondary, and unstressed. However, if stress is defined as relative respiratory force (that is, it involves greater pressure from the lungs than unstressed syllables), as most phoneticians argue, and is inherent in the word rather than the sentence (that is, it is lexical rather than prosodic), then these traditional approaches conflate two distinct processes: Stress on the one hand, and vowel reduction on the other. In this case, primary stress is actually prosodic stress, whereas secondary stress is simple stress in some positions, and an unstressed but not reduced vowel in others. Either way, there is a three-way phonemic distinction: Either three degrees of stress, or else stressed, unstressed, and reduced. See secondary stress for details.
When a stressed syllable contains a pure vowel (rather than a diphthong), followed by a single consonant and then another vowel, as in holiday, many native speakers feel that the consonant belongs to the preceding stressed syllable, /ˈhɒl.ɨ.deɪ/, or assign it to both the preceding and following syllables. Such consonants are sometimes describes as ambisyllabic. However, when the stressed vowel is a diphthong, as in admiration or weaker, speakers agree that the consonant belongs to the following syllable: /ˈædmɨˈreɪʃən/. (Phonetically, the vowel in weak is also a diphthong, [ij].)


Prosodic stress is extra stress given to words when they appear in certain positions in an utterance, or when they receive special emphasis. It normally appears on the final stressed syllable in an intonation unit. So, for example, when the word admiration is said in isolation, or at the end of a sentence, the syllable ra is pronounced with greater force than the syllable ad. (This is traditionally transcribed as /ˌædmɨˈreɪʃən/.) This is the origin of the primary stress-secondary stress distinction. However, the difference disappears when the word is not pronounced with this final intonation.
Prosodic stress can shift for various pragmatic functions, such as focus or contrast. For instance, consider the dialogue
"Is it brunch tomorrow?"
"No, it's dinner tomorrow."
In this case, the extra stress shifts from the last stressed syllable of the sentence, tomorrow, to the last stressed syllable of the emphasized word, dinner. Compare
"I'm going tomorrow." /aɪm ˌɡoʊɪŋ təˈmɒroʊ/
"I'm going tomorrow." /aɪm ˌɡoʊɪŋ təˈˈmɒroʊ/
"It's dinner tomorrow." /ɪts ˈˈdɪnɚ təˌmɒroʊ/
Although grammatical words generally do not have lexical stress, they do acquire prosodic stress when emphasized. Compare ordinary
"Come in"! /ˈkʌm ɪn/
with more emphatic
"Oh, do come in!" /oʊ ˈˈduː kʌm ˌɪn

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