New Phonetic Symbols in the

Advanced Learner's Dictionary of 1974

(From Zielsprache Englisch No 4 of 1976 pp 41& 42)

As the villain of the piece, having been responsible for the change of symbols in the ALD, perhaps I may be allowed to comment on the contributions to the recent Zielsprache Englisch New-Phonetic-Symbols-in-the-ALD discussion.

Mr Leonard Alfes's views were already familiar from his learned article on the subject in Die Neueren Sprachen. He seems to be arguing in favour of what might be a better teaching vehicle specifically for German-speaking students which is ignoring the general public for the ALD. Even if I agreed with his assumptions I should have to point out that the essential thing a dictionary teaches is the phonological composition of words. Beyond this I think it is inadvisable for a general dictionary to go. Teachers of English phonetics should find the new ALD symbols a very convenient transcription to elaborate upon in such directions as they feel will aid their students.

Mr Friedrich has many wise words to say but if he really imagines bit and beat are ordinarily differentiated in most educated British usage at all by length leave alone chiefly so, then I can only urge him carefully to re-examine his conviction – which no English-speaking phonetically experienced observer will be found to support. The forms of the diphthongs of day and fly will not necessarily aid the learner's articulation but they are easy to take in and the two diphthongs really do end much nearer to the sit than to the seat vowel values.

Professor Germer is right in suggesting that the German EFL learner would be aided by uniformity between the ALD and the new edition of EPD (the Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary but the latter has a far more complex raison d'etre than the ALD and will with good reason be more complex in its notation. He can be comforted that the new EPD, although not identical in transcription with the ALD and my CPD, will not really clash with them. It will have three extra complexities (i) colons accompanying the five vowels which are most often long (ii) an extra a letter in the price and mouth diphthongs (iii) and an extra-to-Roman o letter [ɒ] in words like got. The only other difference will be the absence of the tilting of one of the stress marks and the lower positioning of the other. Users will find it very easy to turn from one to the other of these dictionaries.

To Mr Heinrich Kelz I would point out that, at least when the new EPD appears in a year or so, what he is pleased to call current conventions will be seen to be anything but current. Pronunciation certainly has changed in the 70-odd years since the EPD transcription (as used in the 2nd edition of the ALD) first appeared. It is up to individual teachers whether or not they give their pupils materials which additionally display any kinds of length marking.

Mrs Brita Haycraft remarks that it would be interesting to know why the colons were "removed". The short answer is because they [could perhaps 2007] foster misconceptions which prompt mispronunciations. A fuller explanation may be found in the recent article "The Undesirability of Colons in EFL Phonemic Transcription" in the December 1975 issue of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association [to appear on this Website] and in my book People Speaking.

Her comparison of the changes to new symbols with decimalisation is an appropriate one.