IPA: Symbols of Power?

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Modern English Teacher 29.3 July 2020
Mark Hancock IPA Symbols of Power
This article, which first appeared in Modern English Teacher 29.3 (July 2020), argues for a more democratic use of the IPA phonemic symbols in English language teaching.
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Dear Mark, our sessions at the wonderful PronSIG conference coincided so I could not attend your talk (I´m going to watch if for sure). Meanwhile I read the article as I would like to use it as a starting point for the discussion with my students. Evertyhing is clear except for the part A case study: a duck vowel - what do you mean when you say that RP (GB) does not have the duck/come/done/hut vowel? Many thans for clarifying this bit (it has come as as surprise to me). Kristýna
Mark Hancock's picture

Hi Kristyna, Yes, I'm looking forward to seeing your presentation too! About the duck vowel (or 'strut', as Wells would call it), of course it exists in RP. However, it isn't the sound which is represented by the turned V symbol in the IPA (which is Cardinal Vowel 14 - a back vowel) but rather, the sound represented by the symbol known as 'turned A' (a central vowel). In other words, the phonemic symbol (as used in RP) doesn't match the phonetic symbol. At least, that was my understanding, from reading the Handbook of the IPA (CUP). Thanks for your interest in the article! Mark

Now I see how you meant it and yes you are definitely right. It is similar to the symbol r which according to the IPA is an alveolar trill but in English sound charts the symbol is used for the approximant, right? I guess for the sake of simplicity as the inverted r symbol would be difficult to write. Many thanks for your reply. Kristýna
Mark Hancock's picture

I agree with your comment on the /r/ Kristýna. I don't think it matters that the phonemic symbols don't always 'agree' with the phonetic. What matters is when we forget that fact, and confuse the two. That leads to what Bryan Jenner called "an unhappy mixture of phonetic detail and phonological truth" (Speak Out 21, December 1997).

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