Phonetics, as taught by Roach et al, still employs symbols for English RP that are at some variance with the sounds used contemporarily when set against the standard IPA vowel chart. It makes no sense to me that, for example, ʌ is used for the STRUT vowel when on the IPA chart the cardinal usage of this symbol is far further back and nearer in pronunciation to American (perhaps South-Western?). I think you previously agreed with me that the vowel that the contemporary RP user employs is far more like ɐ. Why then does Roach place ʌ in his chart more or less where one would find ɐ on the standard chart? I can’t use phonetics with my acting students and explain that ɔ is a rounded open-mid back vowel and show them on the standard IPA chart where the cardinal exists, and then explain that its unrounded equivalent is actually articulated as a near-open central vowel. The problem exists because I want to use contemporary RP as a fundamental phonetic benchmark from which to use phonetics to transcribe other accents, but I can’t fight against existing texts and teaching standards in isolation.
You’re right, Simon. Practical necessity indeed means we all have to use existing textbooks and pronunciation dictionaries. We ought not to deviate from their transcription systems without very good reason.
If you “want to use contemporary RP as a fundamental phonetic benchmark from which to use phonetics to transcribe other accents”, then don’t start by teaching students the symbols for cardinal vowels. Teach them the vowel symbols for RP.
If and when you move on to teaching the cardinal vowels, please bear in mind that they constitute an abstract reference framework and not the vowel system of any particular language or accent. They were intended to reflect the most extreme positions of which the human vocal apparatus is capable. In applying them to real-life situations we always have to compromise, since no known language is spoken exclusively with the cardinal vowels or a subset among them.
Symbols mean what we choose to make them mean. If you want your students to make use of existing textbooks and pronunciation dictionaries, you have got to teach them that the STRUT vowel in standard accents is transcribed with the symbol ʌ. Later, if you want to study the differences between Jonesian RP, contemporary son-of-RP, various kinds of AmE, and assorted north-of-England English STRUT-FOOT fudges, you can decorate ʌ with interesting diacritics, or indeed choose another symbol or symbols instead. But in doing so you will be exploring a great multidimensional vowel space, in which the cardinal vowel system can do no more than help us feel our way.
When I first studied phonetics, under John Trim at Cambridge, we were set transcription exercises, i.e. asked to convert English orthographic texts into phonetic symbols. We had been armed with a list of symbols and keywords. But as well as doing the task in the way he was expecting, I also amused myself (or was showing off) by transcribing it in accordance with various other transcription systems I had come across or invented myself. So I wrote love as lʌv as taught, but also in another version as lə́v, because I had read Gleason’s Introduction to Descriptive Linguistics, and in yet another as lɐv, following the same logic as Simon. I did the same sort of thing for various other vowels. This game is fun for beginners fascinated by phonetic symbols, as I was, but impractical for drama students who just want help with accents and dialects. (For more of my early experimentation, see my blog for 16 March 2007.)
When I grew up, I settled down to writing RP STRUT as ʌ, just like everyone else. The brief answer to Simon’s first and main problem, then, is that if he wants his students to be able to consult existing textbooks and pronunciation dictionaries he should teach them that ʌ stands for the vowel in RP/GenAm strut, love, double, rug etc. (At a rough guess I imagine that would account for over 99% of the use of this phonetic symbol in published materials, with the cardinal ‘open-mid back unrounded’ value accounting for the remaining 1%.) Anyhow, you can see how I coped with your general problem by looking at what I did in my Accents of English (CUP 1982).
Sooner or later I imagine there will be a tectonic shift in the notation of English vowels. As not only STRUT but also GOOSE, THOUGHT-NORTH-FORCE and various other vowels move further away from the cardinal qualities associated with the symbols we currently use, some author will bite the bullet and provide us with an entirely new transcription system. Geoff Lindsey (blog, 12 March 2012) has already had a go.
Until that happens, stick with what we’ve got.