It reminds me of how the dictionaries can be confusing. For example, one gives ˈsteɪʃ^ənəri, the other /ˈsteɪ.ʃ^ən.^ər.i/, where both are unpronounceable. As written, taken literally, without certain implications. The choice of sounds not to be pronounced is also so random, the prescriptivity arbitrary... Then you have the recorded actor's voice and it doesn't match the written.
I don’t usually react to anonymous negative criticism, but on this occasion I will.
The word stationary/stationery is a good example of how an English word can have several subtly different pronunciations all trivially different from one another. This is because of the interplay of two optional phonological rules in English. They are (i) syllabic consonant formation, which permits a sequence of schwa plus a sonorant to become a syllabic sonorant, and (ii) compression, which involves a reduction in the number of syllables in the word. As the author of a pronunciation dictionary, my dilemma is (a) whether to include all these variants, and (b) if so, how to avoid spelling them all out in detail, which would be too wasteful of space. (AmE is much simpler here, since Americans do not reduce the suffix vowel.)
In BrE our word can be pronounced in any of eight ways, which our seɡment-based transcription system enables us to distinɡuish as follows.
1. ˈsteɪʃənəri (four syllables, no syllabic consonants)
2. ˈsteɪʃn̩əri (four syllables, including a syllabic nasal)
3. ˈsteɪʃənr̩i (four syllables, including a syllabic liquid r̩ = ɚ)
4. ˈsteɪʃn̩r̩i (four syllables, including a syllabic nasal and a syllabic liquid)
5. ˈsteɪʃənri (three syllables, no syllabic consonant)
6. ˈsteɪʃn̩ri (three syllables, including a syllabic nasal).
7. ˈsteɪʃnəri (three syllables, no syllabic consonants)
8. ˈsteɪʃnr̩i (three syllables, including a syllabic liquid).
From the point of view of the EFL student, any one of these is fine. A similar but simpler combinatorial explosion affects words such as liberal and national. Then dictionary and missionary are like stationary.
If I were designing a pronunciation entry for an elementary or intermediate dictionary, I would select one variant and ignore the others. For LDOCE and the like, the entry ˈsteɪʃənəri is entirely adequate. On the other hand the COD’s entry ˈsteɪʃ(ə)n(ə)ri could be taken to imply, wrongly, that the word can be pronounced with two syllables only.
But LPD is meant to be a specialist dictionary. I do not want to dumb down by pretending that the other variants do not exist. I want to specify them unambiguously.
My solution is to use abbreviatory conventions. My entry reads
To understand the entry you have to be able to ‘unpack’ the abbreviatory conventions. If you can do so, you will find that it covers all eight possibilities mentioned above.
The advice on page 149 of the third edition says that you can, if you choose, simplify the abbreviatory conventions by preserving italicized symbols, deleting raised ones, and ignoring the compression mark and syllable-division spaces. Applying this to our word we derive ˈsteɪʃnəri, variant number 7. Fine.
As for the claim that
the recorded actor's voice … doesn't match the written— it is simply untrue. She says ˈsteɪʃn̩ri, version number 6. There is of course no way in which she could have produced all eight versions simultaneously.
Looking at the other pronunciation dictionaries, we see that variants 5 and 6 are not covered by the Cambridge EPD’s ˈsteɪ.ʃən.ər.i, ˈsteɪʃ.nər-. The ODP’s ˈsteɪʃn̩(ə)ri, ˈsteɪʃən(ə)ri does not cover versions 7 and 8.
The LPD entry may be complicated — but the facts are complicated. The optional segments are not ‘random’. Rather than ‘arbitrary prescriptivity’, you could claim that I go to an extreme of inclusiveness and non-prescriptivity. I certainly gave a very great deal of thought to the problem of how best to design an accurately inclusive entry for tricky words like stationary.