Cambridge University Press Fifteenth edition 1997 xix + 559 pp
No EFL textbook has been more famous for longer than the Jones “EPD”, the pronunciation bible for generations of EFL teachers. It was first published in 1917 and underwent major revisions in 1937, 1956 and 1977 (when substantially the present set of phonetic symbols was introduced by A.C. Gimson) but none of these has produced nearly as many or such fundamental changes as this new CUP version engineered by Professor Peter Roach of Reading University, claimed with full justification to be a major new edition.
Jones would hardly recognise it now. In hardback it weighs twice as much as the 1977 hardback edition did. It is for the first time printed in three columns instead of two but with happily no serious sacrifice of legibility. The symbol shapes are very satisfactory except for the excessive space between the two elements of the / t∫ / affricate. Its number of entries has been increased from about 60,000 to over 80,000. It now for the very first time takes account of American pronunciation – with materials supplied by an American co-editor. It also for the first time divides all words explicitly into syllables. It even adopts a nominally new description and new designation for the kind of British pronunciation it purports to record though this affects very few entries.
Happily it avoids the recent Oxford University Press so-called “modernised” transcription (a revised set of phonetic symbols seen increasingly in OUP general but not EFL publications) and maintains what has now become since the late seventies the almost universally accepted set of symbols for British usages including the very welcome application of /i/ and /u/ to such weak syllables as the final one of the word happy. This last feature was first introduced in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English in 1978 and embraced by Professor J. C. Wells in his Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (1990, 2000). Those who know that work (hereafter LPD) will have very few problems in handling the new EPD because most of its new features follow leads given there.
The 22 pages of introductory matter of the previous edition have been completely re-written as 16 double-column pages which, although well and lucidly expressed as a whole, could have benefited from maturer consideration in a number of places. The comment “The time has come to abandon the archaic name Received Pronunciation”, a move welcome to many including the present writer, who has been advocating such a policy for a quarter of a century, but surely very few will approve the substitution for it of “BBC English” (p.v). There are many objections to this choice of term, not least that it would have made much better sense forty years ago. A closing remark in this section about the accent of broadcasters viz “and the sound quality is usually of a very high standard” (p.v) is so awkward that it seems in danger of being taken to refer to the vocalism of the speakers rather than the reception of the transmissions.
The American editor tells us that his choice of model is similar to what has been termed “General American” but fails to make really clear how his “Network English” differs from GA, being particularly mystifying when he ends by saying that he is intent on “being sensitive to the traits of the individual word” (p.vi).
Unlike LPD, EPD15 makes no attempt to record any of the usages of educated speakers of the north or midlands of England though it does claim to offer information about local pronunciations of place-names. A check on two of the best known items in this very limited category showed that for Carlisle indeed the local stressing was recorded but the even better known Newcastle showed no local variant. A very sensible approach is adopted to foreign names which are offered only in versions “likely to be used by educated speakers of English” (p.vi). Jones in previous editions of EPD had for quite a few names given foreign-language versions as well as the Anglicisations normally used. Wells has also done so to a considerably larger extent in LPD but, delightful entertainment though they may be to those who have the phonetic knowledge to interpret such transcriptions, they certainly cannot be considered an essential or even a useful element of a dictionary of pronunciations used by speakers of English. Where borrowed words have more than one English version, the forms representing closer attempts than the complete Anglicisations to produce the sound values of the original language are often neatly labelled "as if French" or as "if Italian" etc.
The treatment of weakform words, the use of whose reduced forms is so essential to natural-sounding spoken English, is commendably full. Part 1 of the Introduction ends with a paragraph on Syllable divisions which incorrectly begins “Earlier editions of this dictionary regularly marked the division between syllables.” (p.vii). In fact Jones wisely decided not to get involved in such a fruitless undertaking and the present main editor’s presumption that “foreign learners will find the information useful” (p.vii). has led him into some regrettable misjudgements besides giving an unhappily cluttered look to many entries. For example false impressions could be received from the syllabifications given that eg Australia, Estonia and Ostend have second syllables which begin with aspirated /t/, that sleepy and snooty have fully long stressed vowel values and that actually and gradually are normally heard with four syllables.
However, Part 2 of the Introduction begins with an effective account of the phoneme principle on which, as in all previous editions, the transcriptions are based. The only notable departure from this principle admitted to is the use, in the American transcriptions only, of a subscript v beneath certain occurrences of American /t/ “to indicate the flapping of /t/ in words such as ‘getting’...”. This again follows LPD but in neither of them is it of any importance at all for overwhelmingly the main readership for both dictionaries viz teachers of British English as a foreign language. The bizarre justification offered here for including it is because “speakers of British English find it difficult to apply the rule which determines when phonemes are flapped” (p. viii).
This part of the Introduction includes three diagrams of the British English vowel system very inferior to the LPD ones and offers none at all for the American system. It deals also with three types of symbols “for other languages”. A [x] conveys the Scottish ch of loch etc. The indication of the English speaker’s version of the Welsh ll-sound by hl is more realistic than the LPD representation. Nasal vowels are appropriately given as nasalised English sounds rather than quotations from French etc phonemic systems.
A rather surprising feature (not parallelled in LPD) is the apparent suggestion that the participial form lightening may equally normally have medial schwa or syllabic /n/ (besides unsyllabic /n/ as in the noun lightning) but that schwas in such items as bottling and wrestling are “not felt to be acceptable”. My impression is that older speakers accept none of these schwas as normal conversational style and that many younger speakers increasingly use schwa all the time in all of them.
The above very brief characterisation of some of the main features of this remarkable new edition of the EPD of course prompts some obvious questions. Who needs it? Does one need both this and the LPD? If not, which is the more advantageous purchase? Should teachers recommend their students to acquire either of them?
Certainly all teachers of spoken English should at least have access to a copy. Whether they are to invest in their own copy will depend on personal matters such as degree of interest in the topic and funds at disposal. No substantial library for English teachers should be without it. Although in dimensions it is comparable to the LPD, it should be clear that, inevitably, of the hundreds of thousands of words which might have been candidates for inclusion, thousands of items will be found to appear in either of the two volumes which are not to be found in the other. Equally certainly, many items that you or I would be glad to see in either of them will unavoidably have been passed over because, once the basic fifteen or twenty thousand best known words are covered, the choice of the subsequent entries is bound to be relatively arbitrary.
In the difficult situation of having to choose one or the other of LPD or EPD, there is no doubt that the Wells dictionary, though not without things one can criticise, has been more carefully thought out, better proofread and offers a remarkably valuable set of extra material incorporated into the text alphabetically which amounts to a concise textbook on English phonetics.
For the student of English who is not or does not aim to be an EFL teacher both of these books contain a lot of information which, while of great interest to many, can in many places be dauntingly difficult to absorb from these very complicated notations (see for instance the way either of them deals with how one may pronounce the word temporarily). Only the individual can decide whether the rewards from owning and using one or both of them are worth the considerable efforts required to make good use of them. What is certain is that the pronunciation of English is an area of learning that is full of pitfalls for the unwary. A great many very competent users of written English persist in mispronouncing numbers of the commonest words in the language because they have not resisted the temptations of false analogies or taken the necessary trouble to check repeatedly that their interpretations of the spellings of various English words that they daily use are allowable ones. There are thousands of words in both EPD and LPD whose pronunciations even the best educated native English speakers neither know nor much worry about not knowing. However, the words that the EFL user most needs to grapple with are the ones that he or she is inclined to pronounce as no speaker anywhere in the English-speaking world does. That there are considerable numbers of such words is due to the huge proportion of English words that are ambiguously spelt. This points to the need for a pocket pronouncing dictionary that doesn’t aim to be anywhere near to as all-inclusive as EPD or LPD and employs a simpler notation than they have so that it can be easily and quickly consulted. Alas no such book exists.
Wells, J. C. (1990). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. London: Longman Group UK Limited. (“LPD”)
Windsor Lewis, J. (2003) ‘IPA Vowel symbols for British English in dictionaries’ Journal of the International Phonetic Association