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Speech transcription

If we want to represent speech sounds in writing we can transcribe the sounds using either:

a) phonemic symbols / /

b) phonetic symbols [ ]

a) phonemic symbols represent the phonemes of English - eg / / ( and all its allophonic variations) They are generalisations, not auditory realities. There are 44 phonemes in English

b) phonetic symbols represent auditory realities and are not related to a specific language: they are international (IPA = International Phonetic Alphabet) .

Phonetic transcription is much more precise than phonemic transcription. A broad phonetic transcription gives some more information than phonemic transcription and a narrow transcription gives much more information than phonemic transcription.

Diacritics are symbols used to add more, precise information to phonetic symbols, eg the symbol [̚~ ] shows that the sound is nasalised.

Phonemic transcription does not represent precise phonetic qualities and therefore it is possible to use several possible symbols to represent one phoneme. We will follow the IPA consonants and use length marks for vowels , ie as Roach and Longman dictionary ( ie recognises qualitative and quantitative differences )


Use the interactive exercise below to practice transcribing phrases phonemically.

This activity is reproduced with permission from David Brett (see Resources section).