One Sound, One Symbol: Phonetic Transcription in English

Topics: International Phonetic Alphabet, Latin alphabet, Alphabet Pages: 5 (1525 words) Published: November 2, 2008
‘Phonetic transcription has generally been governed by the principle, ‘One Sound, One symbol”. Show how English spelling violates this principle. Your essay should include you stand on whether English spelling should be more phonetic.

The interest in the scientific description of sound has led to the invention of the International Phonetic Association (IPA) in 1888. IPA is an association to develop a phonetic alphabet to symbolise the sound of all languages. According to Fromkin, Rodman, Hyams. (2003), the use of Roman alphabet in the English writing system had inspired the IPA to utilise many Roman letters in the invention of phonetic symbols. Unlike ordinary letters that may or may not represent the same sounds in the same or different languages, these alphabetic characters have a consistent value (Fromkin et al., 2003).

According to the phonetic transcription which is governed by the principle, “One Sound, One Symbol”, there should be a list of 26 distinct sounds in English alphabet since there are only 26 letters in English alphabet which can be further divided into consonants and vowels. However, there are 42 different phonemes for the 26 letters in the English alphabet. There are 15 vowel sounds and 27 consonant sounds in English language. The 15 vowels are /i/, /ɪ/, /e/, /ɛ/, /æ/, /ʊ/, /uː/, /ʌ/, /o/,/ɔ/, /a/, /ə/, /aj/, /aw/,and /ɔj/ while the consonants are /p/, /b/, /f/, /v/, /m/, /w/, / /, /ð/, /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /n/, /l/, /r/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /j/,/k/, /g/, /ŋ/,/ h/, /?/ and /hw/ (Fromkin et al., 2003). Hilton & Hyder (1992) stated that some English words are not spelt as they are pronounced; the pronunciation can also vary according to one’s regional accents as well as from one English-speaking country to another. Cases where English words are not spelt as pronounced can be seen in words like business, /bIznəs/ and what, /wɒt/. Rubba (2003) stated that it is important to remember that an IPA symbol always has the same sound which differs from English spelling. For example, the English letter s has various sound values in English spelling, for instance the words that are pronounced as /s/ like 'so', 'bus' and the /z/ of words like 'easy', 'busy'. In IPA, the s in English letter always represents the sound /s/ in 'see', and 'bus'. The sounds represented by the letter s in 'easy', 'busy', are transcribed phonetically with /z/. Thus, this clearly shows that the English spelling has violates the principles of the phonetic transcription, “One Sound, One symbol” (Rubba, 2003).

It is always a problem for English learners since they often find it hard when they discover some English words that do not actually follow the “One Sound, One Symbol” principle. Hilton et al., (1992) described “English is often considered to be an illogical language with no rhyme or reason to its spelling.” In other words, pronunciation of a word does not necessarily matches its spelling and we can also have a sound make by several letter combinations. For instance, words like though, is pronounced as /ðəʊ/ while cloud is pronounced as /kaʊd/. Although both though and cloud have same medial vowels in English alphabetic characters (ou) but the pronunciations according to the IPA are different. Confusion can also occur when some of the English words that differ in terms of spelling but they shared the same pronunciation like the /ɔ/ sound in these words, store, /stɔI/, August /ɔIgəst/ and flaw, / flɔI/ ( Hilton et al., 1992)

The violation of the “One Sound, One Symbol” not only can be seen in the use of the vowels in the English words, it also applied to the consonants in the English words. Lutrin & Pincus,(2004). showed that the c in a word is usually pronounced as /k/ as in the word cat, /kæt/ but when it is followed by e, i, or y, it is pronounced as /s/ as in the word city, /sɪti/. Instead of the words mentioned before, as in cat and city, there are a few exceptions in some words where the /s/ sound is...
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