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Open-mid central unrounded vowel

From Teflpedia

Mid central vowel Open-mid central unrounded vowel In English, both in Received Pronunciation and in General American, the IPA phonetic symbol /ɜː/ corresponds to the vowel sound in words like "nurse", "turn", "word" and “girl" (/nɜːrs, tɜːrn, wɜːrd/ and /gɜːrl/).

At the advice of Clive Upton the Concise Oxford Dictionary altered the British tradition and now uses /əː/ instead of /ɜː/; later Oxford Dictionaries Online followed the same convention.[1] Linguist Jack Windsor Lewis said “This has the advantage of reducing the total number of unfamiliar symbols to be assimilated by the general user.” However his verdict is “as things are, it doesn’t now seem worthwhile changing what we have.”[2]

R-colored vowel R-colored vowel Open-mid central unrounded vowel Some American dictionaries use /ɜ/ or /ɝ/ instead of /ɜː/. Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary uses /ɚ/ both for /ər/ (unstressed) and /ɜːr/ (stressed). /ɝ/ and /ɚ/ are called r-colored vowels.

Silent /r/[edit | edit source]

In Received Pronunciation /ɜːr/ is pronounced [ɜː] or [əː] unless it is followed by a vowel, i.e. the "r" is normally silent unless it is followed by a vowel.

In General American the "r" is always pronounced, either as [ɜɹ], [ɝ] or [ɝ].

There are places in the United Kingdom where the "r" is pronounced, and places in North America where it is not pronounced.

Common words[edit | edit source]

Some common words containing /ɜ:/ include the following:

  • With "er": certain - concern - determine - her - nerve - perfect - person - service - term - verb - were
  • With "ear": early - earn - earth - heard - learn - search
  • With "ur": burn - hurt - murder - return - surface - Thursday - turn - urban
  • With "ir": bird - birthday - circle - circuit - circulation - dirty - firm - girl - shirt - sir - skirt - stir - third - thirsty - thirty -virtual - virtue
  • With "or": word - work - world - worse - worst - worth
  • Others: journalist - journey

Less common words[edit | edit source]

  • With "er": certify - fern - herb - herd - Mercury /ˈmɜːrkjəriː/ - merge - kerb - stern - thermal
  • With "ear": pearl
  • With "ur": curb - curly - fur - surgeon - urgent
  • With "ir": Birmingham /ˈbɜːrmɪŋəm/ - fir - flirt
  • With "or": attorney - worm
  • With "our": courteous
  • With "eur": connoisseur /kɒnəˈsɜːr/ - entrepreneur /ɒntrəprəˈnɜːr/

Since in American English /ɜː/ is always followed by /r/, the pronunciation of hors d'oeuvre (appetizer) has an unwritten /r/: /ɔːr ˈdɜːrv/. In Received Pronunciation the /r/ is not pronounced. See [1] for a phonetic misspelling of hors d'oeuvre.

Spelling anomaly[edit | edit source]

  • colonel /ˈkɜːrnəl/

Homophones[edit | edit source]

  • birth - berth; colonel - kernel; earn - urn; fir - fur; heard - herd; tern - turn.

These words don’t rhyme[edit | edit source]

  • early - dearly; heard - beard; were - here; worm - storm;

Variant pronunciations[edit | edit source]

  • deterent: /dɪˈterənt,BrE dɪˈtɜːrəntAmE/

/ɜː/ and /ʌ/[edit | edit source]

When Received Pronunciation has the sequence /ʌːrV/ (with V any vowel, as in hurry), General American has the sequence /ɜːrV/ (hurry rhymes with furry). This is called the hurry-furry merger.[3]

  • RP /ʌ/, GA /ɜː/: borough /ˈbʌrə,BrE ˈbɜːrəʊAmE/ - concurrence - concurrent - courage - currant - currency - current - hurry - nourish - occurrence - thorough /ˈθʌrə,BrE ˈθɜːrəʊAmE/ - worry
  • RP and GA /ɜː/: blurry - concurring - furry - occurring - preferring - referral - referring - stirring

Six ways to spell /sɜːr/[edit | edit source]

  • sermon, sirloin, search, surgeon, certain, circle

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1[edit | edit source]

Preconceived ideas and other interferences from L1 obviously interfere in many cases with how students perceive - and pronounce - sounds/words in English. The following sections aims to point out some of the most typical difficulties teachers and students may encounter regarding pronunciation.

Spanish[edit | edit source]

/ɜː/ is completely foreign to Spanish speakers.

In the case of cognates, they often pronounce them as in Spanish. For example, urgent pronounced as */ˈʊr.dʒənt/, virtual as */ˈvɪr.tʃwəl/ and perfect as */ˈper.fɪkt/.

In the case of native English words, the Spanish adaptations normally use a spelling pronunciation, as in “sterling" translated to esterlina or “flirt" translated to flirtear. This habit is often used when speaking English, such as pronouncing “bird" similar to “beard" or "word" similar to "ward.”

References[edit | edit source]