New directions in pronunciation transcription

(Adapted from pp 183-9 in the volume In Honour of A. S. Hornby edited by Peter Strevens published in 1978 at London by the Oxford University Press)

The great tide of interest in the learning and teaching of English by those with other mother tongues began on the Continent a century ago. It is surprising that a general English dictionary for such users did not appear anywhere until in Tokyo in 1942 the Hornby, Gatenby, and Wakefield Idiomatic and Syntactic Dictionary first saw the light of day. Curiously enough, a generation and more earlier, dictionaries exclusively devoted to pronunciation had appeared, in Sweden and in Germany, even before the arrival of the Jones/Michaelis Phonetic Dictionary of the English Language (1913) and most notably of the Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary in 1917.

In view of the rather special problems which pronunciations present to the EFL learner it is no surprise that the Learner's Dictionary of Current English, under which title the Hornby, Gatenby, and Wakefield work appeared when first issued by the Oxford University Press in 1942, gave full consideration to such matters. Indeed in the original introduction Hornby went out of his way to declare of the symbols of the International Phonetic Association's alphabet which the work employed that they were 'essential in any language textbook'. His various textbooks such as the Guide to Patterns and Usage in English show that he practised what he preached.

It was natural that, in view of the well-deserved high reputation of the Daniel Jones dictionary, the choice of IPA symbols for the Learner's Dictionary should be harmonized with it, though Hornby's independent outlook showed itself in his preference in it for non-IPA stress marks. Primary and secondary stresses were shown by respectively acute and grave accents placed above the vowel in question. This for one thing avoided some rather debatable syllable divisions which for long characterized the (so-called Everyman) English Pronouncing Dictionary (EPD) until the Gimson revision of 1977, and a decade later became the orthodox American scholarly method of stress indication. It was, according to Daniel Jones at p.xxiii of the 1913 Jones/Michaelis Phonetic Dictionary, 'the ideal place for the stress mark' but practical printing difficulties apparently determined the IPA style which Jones always used of a stress mark before the beginning of each syllable. Consequently, the Advanced Learner's Dictionary (ALD), as the second edition of 1963 was retitled, conformed with the virtually universal British practice in EFL phonetics of employing the IPA authorised stress marks.

Until this edition the ALD seemed to have been either underrated or completely overlooked by teachers of British pronunciation as a sourcebook of information. Indeed it may well still be so by some learners and teachers. This must be very much to their loss when one considers that the third edition of the OALDCE had 50,000 headwords and derivatives and that well over 100,000 items were given either with full pronunciation or with full stress indications. And this takes no account of the immense number of word combinations which, although obviously entitled to classification as compound words in common with most of the items specifically marked with forestress, were left unmarked with the definite implication that they bore stress on all content words of which they are composed, and thereby principal stress on the last of them. This coverage even extended to phrasal verbs and idiomatic fixed phrases in the OALDCE.'

It is curious that Daniel Jones never mentioned the ALD in any of the bibliographies of the successive editions of his Outline of English Phonetics which appeared until the early 1960s. On the contrary, not only did he include in the Outline as soon as possible after its appearance in 1952 the ALD's principal offspring, An English-Reader's Dictionary, but he accorded to this work one of the only two book reviews he felt moved to write in the last twenty years of his life. His very appreciative comments on it particularly commended its use of what he chose to call 'simplified transcription', a variety Jones devised especially 'for learners who do not need to make any detailed study of comparative phonetics'. Jones is well known to have at one time declared his inclination to rewrite the EPD in this transcription, which contained only two 1etters that were not normal ones of the roman alphabet. However, despite the fact that he encouraged others to produce books using it in the forties, he failed to make any change in transcription when he brought out his second major revision of the EPD in 1956.

When the second edition of the ALDCE was published in 1963 the present writer commented, in a review in Le Maître Phonétique: Although the transcription employed is almost exactly EPD, a refreshing independence of judgement is apparent, so that one can turn to this work, as to so few others, for a genuine opinion on the currency of a pronunciation and not just the same old crib from DJ ... A very valuable feature of the dictionary is its inclusion of hundreds of everyday compound words like fountain-pen and box-office which are not stress marked in other dictionaries and often omitted from the EPD, so that in very many cases it constitutes the only source of such information in existence ... In short, if Mr Hornby had published the transcriptions alone they would rank as an important record of the major part of the living English vocabulary – by far the most valuable and authoritative outside of the monumental EPD – but we have to remember that for him they were only a significant subordinate part of this splendid dictionary.

The writer was naturally deeply gratified when ASH invited him to contribute the pronunciation element to the enlarged third edition of OALDCE, whose coverage was to be extended so as to include American spellings, pronunciations, and meanings. In addition, all compound words – whether written solid, or with their elements separated, or with hyphens – were to be presented in forms which left their stressings in no doubt. Ultimately it was decided also to supply stress indications, where appropriate, with phrasal verbs and idiomatic fixed phrases. The task of recording all this, although a minor part of the massive amount of labour which went into the third edition of the OALDCE, was an exacting one. Work was begun on it well over three years before the OALDCE appeared in print in 1974. It was thus begun also well before the text of my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English (CPD) was finally ready for the press, and the former task was not without its effects on the latter work.

Lengthy pondering upon how one could devise a transcription which avoided misleading the unwary as to the durational values of the English vowels, and at the same time was as simple and economical as regards the numbers and comfortable recognizability of the letters employed led me to the inescapable conclusion that both the OALDCE and the CPD would serve the general user better if I adopted two slight departures from the Gimson (1970) set of symbols which had been the basis of that projected transcription. The first of these departures was to abandon the IPA Cardinal Vowel No. 13 symbol / ɒ/. As the Principles of the International Phonetic Association (PIPA) pointed out it is generally advisable to represent such a vowel as the one in got by one of the more familiar symbols or in some cases by one of the ordinary roman letters, I became and remain convinced that for the general EFL user this was one of those cases.

A principal reason for my use of / o / was to make correlation of orthography and transcription as easy as possible. It is noteworthy that o is a much more characteristic and frequent spelling of the got vowel than it is of the saw vowel. A quality of saw vowel at all near to Cardinal No.7 is confined to only a small minority of General British speakers who possess it usually as a feature of London regional influence upon their speech. On the other hand, the centre of gravity of the saw vowel lies very little if anything above the precise Cardinal No. 6 value, making the Cardinal No. 6 symbol the ideal symbol for that vowel. Its General British diaphonemic range seems to me in fact to be almost exactly that represented in the PIPA diagram as the recommended range to application of Cardinal Vowel No.6. The feared disadvantage to the advanced student in having to use the Cardinal No.7 symbol for half-close types of vowel in allophonic transcriptions after first knowing it as representing a practically fully open vowel is likely to prove very slight indeed. It is often easier to make a big mental adjustment than a rather subtle one. Those who complain of the disadvantages to students using phonetic transcriptions in which / o / represents a strikingly different quality in the English phoneme from what it will be used to stand for in another language are reminded that this is so for English orthography in any case.

The other departure from the earlier version of CPD which I decided on while working on the OALDCE was the decision to employ the same letter to indicate the arm vowel and to begin both the five and now diphthongs. Just as I had the comforting precedent in my treatment of the got vowel of Henry Street, so I had in this case the precedent of the mature Daniel Jones who used a transcription embodying this simplification in his latest work on English pronunciation (Jones 1950). If one agrees that, although the average beginning of the page diphthong, is made with the tongue considerably higher than for the hair dipthong, it is feasible to show them both beginningwith the ordinary roman 'e' which is used for the dress simple vowel, then I am at a loss to understand objections to a precisely comparable simplification being applied to the representation of the five and now diphthongs and the simple vowel of arm. It is quite easy to understand why old EPD used the Cardinal No. 4 letter in both these diphthongs, since in Jonesian RP the five diphthong centre of gravity (ie of its beginning) was precisely the No.4 vowel value to which that letter is assigned in the Jonesian Cardinal Vowel system, and the now diphthong centre of gravity was placed a quarter of the way or less between Cardinal Vowels No. 4 and No. 5. However, in the Gimsonian picture of present-day RP the centre of gravity of the price diphthong is horizontally where Jones placed his house diphthong or more retracted still, and distinctly raised from the fully open position. What is more, the centre of gravity of the Gimsonian house diphthong (its beginning) is half-way between Cardinal No. 4 and No. 5 or rather nearer to the latter.

It may be suggested that I should have rejected the straightened italic /ɑ / Cardinal No. 5 vowel letter in favour of the normal roman [a]. Here again I admit that I shrank from too sharp a break with the past in spite of the greater typographical simplicity such a move would have afforded. However, although I prefer CPD transcription to be written with the symbols I use, I don't feel that any great violence is done to it by a printer who feels he needs to use that roman [a]. In handwriting the two kinds of 'a' are hardly distinct. The appearance of the New EPD with its added weight to the movement from length-emphasizing to quality-emphasizing transcription types in EFL will no doubt be seen as a final great turning point. It would be unwarrantably gloomy to complain that the two slight contrasts between New EPD and CPD discussed above, are any real misfortune. And the one remaining difference between CPD and New EPD, the presence or absence of colons, should be seen in the proper light of being essentially unimportant.


Afzelius, J. A. (1909) Concise English Pronouncing Dictionary. Stockholm: Norstedt

Gimson, A. C. (1970) An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English. (IPE) London: Edward Arnold.

Hornby, A. S. & Parnwell, E. C. (1952) An English-Reader's Dictionary. London: Oxford University Press, Second Edition 1969.

Hornby, A. S. (1975) A Guide to Patterns and Usage in English. Second Edition. London: Oxford University Press.

Hornby, A. S., Gatenby, E. V., Wakefield, H. (1942) Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary,

first reissued (1948) as A Learner's Dictionary of Current English,

then (1952) as The Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English (Second Edition 1963)

and (Third Edition 1974) as The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English by A. S. Hornby

with the assistance of A. P. Cowie and J. Windsor Lewis. London: Oxford University Press.

Jones, D. & Michaelis, H. A. (1913) Phonetic Dictionary of the English Language. Berlin: Carl Meyer.

Jones, D. (1917) An English Pronouncing Dictionary (The 'EPD'), revised by Gimson, A. C. London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1967 and 1977.

Jones, D. (1918) An Outline of English Phonetics. London: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, D. (1949) The Principles of the International Phonetic Association. London.

Jones, D. (1950) The Pronunciation of English. London: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, D. (1953) Review of Hornby and Parnwell 1952. Le Maître Phonétique. London.

Schrӧer, A. (1913) Neuenglisches Aussprachewӧrterbuch. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.

Windsor Lewis, J. (1965) Review of Hornby et al. The Advanced Learner's Dictionary. London: Le Maitre Phonetique.

Windsor Lewis, J. (1972) The notation of the General British English segments. JIPA. London.

Windsor Lewis, J. (1975) The undesirability of length marks in EFL phonemic transcription. JIPA. London.