If you’re employed by the BBC, or work for an independent programme maker producing BBC programmes, then you are entitled to consult the BBC Pronunciation Unit for “professional advice about pronunciations in all languages”.
The staff of the Unit are all multilingual trained phoneticians, and do an excellent job.
Their advice covers anything from what, in a British context, might be called recherché and exotic…...through the not-quite-so-exotic......to names you’d think most educated BrE NSs would be familiar with (though presumably someone had asked). (That should, of course, be Oxford, not Cambridge.)
As you can see, their indications of pronunciation do not include IPA transcriptions, but do offer a choice of two respelling systems.
One, “BBC Modified Spelling”, has been in use for many years. Some of the symbols it uses have diacritics: ī for the vowel of PRICE, ō for the vowel of GOAT, and oo with a breve (not available in Unicode) for the vowel of FOOT; breves are also used on ă ĕ ĭ ŏ ŭ to represent schwa. The voiced dental fricative is shown by underlining, th, and underlining is also used for the digraphs zh (IPA ʒ) and hl (IPA ɬ). Stress is shown by a superscript acute mark.
The other scheme is a newer one. It avoids diacritics, but at the expense of being perhaps less transparent. The letter y is used in two different senses, representing in some cases the PRICE vowel and in others the palatal glide. PRICE can also be written igh. Schwa is written uh or uhr. Stress is shown by capitalization.
Symbols that might be open to interpretation are accompanied by a brief explanation.
Respelling systems based on orthographic conventions have one great advantage over IPA or IPA-style transcription systems. They are less phonetically explicit, more abstract. Instead of worrying about whether GOAT has a diphthong with a rounded first element (oʊ), a diphthong with an unrounded first element (əʊ) or a monophthong (oː), we just agree that ō (or oh) stands for whatever vowel you use in GOAT words.
However, respelling systems for English face particular difficulty in finding satisfactory symbols for
• the PRICE vowel, for which neither y nor igh is unambiguous, while ī has a diacritic
• the MOUTH vowel, for which both ou and ow are ambiguous (cf. soul, show)
• the GOAT vowel, for which oh may wrongly suggest a short vowel and oa, ou, ow are ambiguous (cf. broad, loud, now)
• schwa. If oh represents a long vowel, how can we make it clear that uh represents a short weak one?
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This blog will now be suspended for a week. (I may see some of you in Łódź.) Next posting: 19 December.