Phonetic symbol

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Revision as of 18:34, 30 May 2019 by Roger (talk | contribs) (Long vowels: missing word)

Phonetic symbols are used to represent, in print, the different sounds that make up words. In this website (and everywhere else, excepting specialized Linguistic journals or books) the term phonetic symbol refers to what would be strictly called phonemic symbol, i.e. symbols that represent different phonemes.

The international standard is that of the International Phonetic Association's International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The full chart of symbols can be seen (and downloaded from) here and an interactive webpage of the chart here.

However the IPA standard is meant for sounds, not phonemes (a phoneme is a collection of similar sounds). For this reason publishing companies often make variations for their proprietary dictionaries and/or textbooks. The phonetic symbols (or phonemic notation) used in Teflpedia represent the phonemes of the English language using conventions very similar to those introduced by Alfred Gimson in 1977 for Received Pronunciation[1][2] and found on several Oxford dictionaries such as Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. However the parentheses used in that dictionary are not used in this website: "square" is rendered as /skweər/ rather than /skweə(r)/.

The 'Extensions' to the International Phonetic Alphabet (ExtIPA) go beyond the formal sound systems of languages, to cover the speech sounds of paralinguistic functions and pathological speech.[3]

Many of the article pages below contain a section on "Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1". Some of these will also have links to pages that provide material for teachers to practise differences between "similar" sounds.

According to The Longman dictionary of language teaching and applied linguistics, 'phonemic notation uses only the distinctive sounds of a language (phonemes). It does not show the finer points of pronunciation. It is written with slanting brackets / /.' On the other hand, 'phonetic notation is written in square brackets [ ]'.[4]


The table in this section shows English phonemes in a way that is compatible for Received Pronunciation and General American. For more detailed examples see the corresponding articles. See also American English v. British English § Pronunciation.

Short vowels

Long vowels

Most linguists agree that /iː/ and /uː/ are actually diphthongs, because they do not end with the exactly same vowel as they begin. In the notation of Geoff Lindsey for Southern British English they are [ɪj] and [ʉw].[5]


The diphthong /juː/ (as in cute) is analysed as /j/ + /uː/.


Some linguists think that there are no triphthongs in English.[6] Others define the following:

  • /aɪə/ - fire. It is often pronounced as disyllable /aɪ/+/ə/
  • /aʊə/ - hour. It is often pronounced as disyllable /aʊ/+/ə/


Voiceless consonants

Voiced consonants

Other symbols

Examples: /stɑːrt, fliːs, guːs, θɔːt, nɜːrs/ start, fleece, goose, thought, nurse
Examples: /ˈdɒktər, həʊˈtel/ doctor, hotel
Examples: /ˌkærəktəˈrɪstɪk, ˌkɒnfərˈmeɪʃən/ characteristic, confirmation
Examples: [dʌzn̩, lɪtl̩] dozen, little

Actual phonetic symbols

In this wiki we use the informal term phonetic symbol to call what linguists call phonemic symbol. Actual phonetic symbols are identical to phonemic symbols, but instead of slashes they are enclosed in square brackets. Phonemic symbols are called broad notation, and phonetic symbols are called narrow notation.

  • IPA phonetic symbol [ɛ]. This symbol represents the vowell phoneme in head. /hed/ (broad notation) sounds normally exactly like [hɛd] (narrow notation). Many dictionaries use /ɛ/ instead of /e/. There is some flexibility in broad notation, but narrow notation is more precise.
  • IPA phonetic symbol [e]. As a phonetic symbol [e] is the last sound of French fiancé [fjɑ̃.se], British English /fiˈɑːnseɪ/, American English /ˌfiːɑːnˈseɪ/. [e] is also heard in Australian English pronunciation of /e/. This means that /hed/ is heard as [hed] in Australian English and as [hɛd] in British and American English.
  • IPA phonetic symbol [x]. For example, in Spanish "San José" is pronounced [saŋxoˈse]
  • IPA phonetic symbol [ɹ]. This is the English /r/. "Rose" may be pronouced [ɹəʊz]BrE or [ɹoʊz].AmE In a phonemic notation, both pronunciation are written /rəʊz/. /r/ is used in phonemic notation only for familiarity and ease of typing.


See also

External links