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Reading and Producing English Phonemic Transcriptions

There are five documents available here to help you develop skill at these tasks. Because of the need to deal with a number of special symbols, four of the five are in Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) files, which require the use of Adobe Acrobat to read or print out. For more information on the Acrobat Reader, visit the Adobe Acrobat Information page.

  1. Description and Examples. The document entitled "An intuitive system for transcribing the surface contrasts of American English" gives the symbols that are used in the transcription grouped together according to their types (stressed syllabics, unstressed syllabics, and nonsyllabic consonants), together with words that exemplify each. There is also discussion of three entities used to separate words and syllables (a space, a hyphen, and an apostrophe) and explanations of what each does within the system.You will want to refer to this document from time to time as you read and transcribe the words in 2. and 3. below.
  2. Transcriptions to be Read and Analyzed. There are a total of 160 words (some with variants) transcribed according to the above system to be found in "Phonemic transcriptions of English pronunciations," a seven-page document. It is recommended that you do the first page or two and get feedback from your instructor before proceeding to do the remainder. You should write your answers directly on a printed copy of the document.
  3. English Words to be Transcribed. There are a total of 160 words to be transcribed in the above system. They are to be found in "English words for transcription." Transcribe them according to your most normal and natural pronunciation.You should write your answers directly on a printed copy of the document.
  4. Translating Symbols. Unfortunately, there are a number of different usages prevalent with respect to phonetic symbols. The IPA had its roots in Europe, and American linguists have tended to develop a system of transcription that differs at some points, reflecting sound types more prevalant among New World languages and some of the practical shortcuts that grew out of their fieldwork. Furthermore, sounds structure in different ways in different languages. A case in point are the affricates "ch" and "j" in English, which are unitary phonemes in English, but are represented as stop-fricative combinations in the IPA. For these and other reasons, it is necessary to learn to translate among these different usages to a certain extent, even in an introductory course in General Linguistics. The document "Translating symbols" gives the the major differences you will encounter in this unit.
  5. Dialect Checklist. Another complication to be faced is the complex picture presented by the many dialects of English, even those of American English alone. To help you locate your own usage within this dialect picture, your instructor has developed a "Checklist of American English Dialects." Although this is one of the required exercises of Unit 3, TheWider Context, it is recommended that you begin to familiarize yourself with this checklist now, while working on Unit 1.
  6. Phonetic Fonts. Fonts that can produce special symbols are available for both PC and Mac at no cost at several locations on the web. Here is a comprehensive listing.

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