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Working Knowledge: Hard Problems ofLexicography Pronunciation Keys in American Dictionaries T X 3 William A. Kretzschmar, Jr. University of Georgia 1he principal American desktop dictionaries all use pronunciation keys that are designed to make pronunciation transcriptions as immediately recognizable and intuitive as possible to dieir readers. The dictionaries' editors believe that their pronunciation keys either capitalize on English spelling or take advantage of traditional American diacritical marking practices. There is, however, considerable variation among the prominent dictionaries, especially in their treatments of low and back vowels and diphthongs. Some editors prefer heavy use of diacritical marks, including several marks more than the traditional use of macron (and sometimes breve) to mark "long" and "short" vowels. Especially among the diphthongs, there is also variation in the choice ofW or VC pairs, presumably because editors have chosen different common spellings as basic to the pronunciation. The result is the situation in American lexicography where no reader, whether naive or expert, can know what the transcriptions in the popular dictionaries represent without referring to the pronunciation key. Even when readers consult the key, they find sample words provided to illustrate die symbols, not internationally-agreed-upon IPA symbols or other means to represent specific phonetic values for the symbols of the key. The benefit of this practice is that American readers of dictionaries can pronounce words using their own regional variant pronunciations without being contradicted by the dictionary: for instance, Southerners can Dictionaries:Journal ofthe Dictionary Society ofNorth America 27 (2006) , 127-132 128William Kretzschmar pronounce the vowel of ride as a monophthong while Northerners use a diphthong, and vice versa for Upper Midwestern monophdiongal pronunciations of go and stay compared to Southern diphthongs. The same symbol from the dictionary key comes to represent more than one sound, which surely results in a poor representation of American pronunciation . American dictionary editors thus indulge in a mild subterfuge regarding American pronunciation, apparendy not wanting to annoy any part of their market with the facts. The situation is different in England, where IPA-based pronunciation keys are the norm. British dictionaries sell in die world market as well as the domestic market so actual phonetic pronunciations have value for English learners, and domestic buyers are thought to be able to cope with die facts even though British regional differences in accent are more marked dian American differences. The Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English (Upton, Kretzschmar, and Konopka 2001), prepared for the world market, does offer IPA transcriptions of American English alongside British English. The model adopted there presents pronunciations that, if used, would not be recognized as regionally or socially marked. The subterfuge is gone, at the cost of the editors having to make decisions about regionally and socially marked variants . It is no benefit to dictionary users to avoid giving them specific information about pronunciation. American editors might just as well leave out the pronunciations altogether — except that their market does care how words are pronounced and uses dieir dictionaries as their authority . British editors have frankly accepted the responsibility to act as an audiority, and in so doing have accepted die need to create and to defend specific pronunciation models for practical use by their users. To address this problem, American dictionaries could use a pronunciation key designed with four goals: 1.To be as immediately recognizable and intuitive as possible, witii reference to Americans' predilection for spelling pronunciations . 2.To be as consistent internally as possible, in order to promote a realistic understanding of American pronunciation among readers. 3.To avoid unnecessary introduction of confusing multiple typographical resources like diacritics, caps, boldface, and italics. 4.To maintain a symbol-by-symbol correspondence with the IPA, so that each symbol represents only one sound. Pronunciation Keys in American Dictionaires129 Lee Pederson's ABC code (1987) already goes a long way in that direction , although not developed specifically for dictionaries. He notes that we lack an adequate transition between normal orthography and phonemic representation, so that "editors overlook sets ofphonological words ordered under a common orthographic form, tacitly enter phonological units without comment, or resort to the unsystematic phonographies of cartoonists and literary comedians" (1987, 49). The terms longand short for vowels...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 127-132
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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