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Phonetic Pronunciation

Phonetic Pronunciation Using Standard Letters

Since a letter in English can represent different sounds; and since the same sound can be represented by different letters, our problem in conveying a pronunciation is ambiguity. That is what we need to eliminate, if possible. When the reader has only one option for pronouncing the word – the option the writer intended – then we’ve succeeded in communicating the pronunciation.

Here are the different sounds in English, and how they can be represented using the letters of the alphabet. Note that this is similar to the system used by some popular online dictionaries.

Long A, as in “ace” – ay
Middle A, as in “bat” – aa
Short A, as in “car” – ah
Schwa, as in “FEMA” - uh

Most vowels can be degraded to “uh,” represented in dictionaries as the upside-down “e” or schwa.

B – b

C should not be used in a phonetic spelling because its sound is always either the “s” sound or the “k” sound.

CH – ch
Remember that a soft CH, as in “Chevy” is really the sh sound.

D – d

Long E, as in “bean” – ee
Short E, as in “fetch” – eh (Words like "air" would be better "ehr" to rule out other vowel sounds and combinations.)
ER sound, as in “maker” – er (Words spelled with "ur" like "fur" oten will be, phonetically, "er.")
Schwa, as in “listen” – uh

F – f

Soft G, as in “judge” – j
Hard G, as in “gum” – g

H – h

Long I, as in “fine” – iy
Short I, as in “hit” – ih
The I also can make the ee sound, as at the end of “spaghetti.”

J – j
J might also represent the zh sound, as in the “soup du jour.”

K – k

L – l

M – m

N – n

NG, as in “bring” – ng

Long O, as in “bone” – oh
Short O, as in “dot” – ah
OO to make ü, as in “mood” – oo
OU sound, as in “could” or “wood” – ou

– p

PH – f

Q is another letter that should not appear in phonetic spellings, as its sound is always the “k” sound. So “queen” would begin witih kw, “quay” would be kee, and a Q at the end of a word would be replaced with k.

R – r

S - s

SH – sh
A vocalized SH makes the soft, sloppy sound heard in “genre” or “montage” - zh

T – t

Hard TH, as in “theory” and “with” – tth
Soft TH, as in “this” and “breathe” – thh

Long U, as in “mute” – yoo
Short U, or ü, as in “lunar” – oo
Schwa, as in “mug” – uh

V – v

W – w

X is either ks or z. In the name “Xanax,” it is z at the beginning and ks at the end.

Y at the beginning of a word or syllable, as in “yes” and “midyear” – y
Y in other places is probably making the Long E sound, as in “funny” – ee

Z is a vocalized S, and it’s very important to distinguish these, especially at the end of a word. “Trees” would be phonetically spelled treez. “Possess” would be puh-ZEHS.

Use capital letters to indicate emphasized syllables, and nothing else. If you use caps to show the difference between one possible pronunciation and another, you’ve re-introduced ambiguity.

© 2105 Dan Popp