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This is question #2 in the list of 7 Essential Meta Questions of Every Beta

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Pronunciations

Often it is necessary to discuss the pronunciation of words. There are a variety of ways of marking pronunciations in text. The simplest way is to use a “respelling” system, where you use a different spelling that is (hopefully) unambiguous for how to pronounce. Features of this system that are sometimes used are to put stressed syllables in all capital letters and to separate syllables with hyphens. This kind of system is often convenient, but frequently has the problem of being ambiguous (in some cases even more so than the original spelling of a word). Here are some examples of a respelling system:

  • pronunciation: pro-nun-see-AY-shun
  • aberrant: uh-BERR-uhnt, AB-ber-uhnt
  • andouille: an-DOO-ee

Another system is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which is the system used by linguists and others to represent the sounds of all the world’s languages. While most American English dictionaries use their own proprietary “respelling” systems to indicate pronunciations, British dictionaries have, for the most part, switched to using exclusively IPA. While there is no official system for IPA for English, the system used by Wikipedia incorporates most of the normal conventions used for transcribing English. Here are some examples of pronunciations using IPA:

  • pronunciation /prəˌnʌnsiˈeɪʃən/
  • aberrant: /əˈbɛrənt/, /ˈæbərənt/
  • andouille: /ænˈduːi/

Please feel free to use whatever system you find the most convenient in both your questions and answers. However, we do encourage more experienced users to add IPA pronunciations to questions and answers to make things less ambiguous and more clear for other readers.

Other discussions on meta regarding pronunciations:

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    I'd suggest that any answer which uses IPA also link to a chart which the casual user can decode -- many "drive-by" questioners or browsers won't be familiar with the IPA. (Heck, even regular users like me aren't familiar with it.) – J.T. Grimes Sep 9 '10 at 1:41
  • @Boofus, yes I agree. I have tried in most of the cases where I use IPA to also include a "respelling" version. I think when using IPA, the fact that it is IPA should be pointed out and the word ‘IPA’ linked to the Wikipedia IPA for English page, or something similar. While we can’t reasonably expect all questioners to do this, editors who add IPA should be explicitly encouraged to. – nohat Sep 9 '10 at 5:41
  • A side note: as a non-native speaker, I've always found "respelling" (e.g. uh-BERR-uhnt) far from simple and actually very slow to decipher, while IPA is a lot clearer. (This probably boils down to how vowels are pronounced in different ways in English depending on context, as opposed to consistent pronunciation in many other languages (i is always /i/). And the fact that our school books used IPA or something similar.) – Jonik Sep 11 '10 at 0:46
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On-topic and Off-topic Questions

On-topic

  • Usage, word choice, and grammar
  • Etymology
  • Spelling and punctuation
  • Pronunciation
  • Problems encountered by people learning English
  • Dialect differences

Off-topic

  • Languages other than English
  • English literature discussion
  • Please proofread my document
  • How to improve my English
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    I have started another question to discuss the specifics of what is on-topic and off-topic. I will try to keep this answer updated to reflect the results of voting there. – nohat Sep 8 '10 at 21:41
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A possible FAQ question:

What do you mean by "English"?

A possible answer:

English is the primary language for around 400 million people in UK, USA, Canada and Australia, and is estimated to be a secondary language for another billion or so.

We consider English to be the language actually used by native speakers, including dialects, sociolects, slang and historical usage, rather than a language standard proscribed by an authoritarian source.

As an example, we regard "The Queen's English" as a subset of English, not as "real English" where most native speakers' actual English is wrong.

By extension, we accept questions on the form "Is X more common than Y?", while questions on the form "Isn't it annoying that people say X when they really should be saying Y?" are off-topic. (See also the list of on-topic and off-topic questions.)

There is some overlap with the Site Manifesto question, but I think it would be useful to have a summary of the site philosophy/policy on "what do you consider proper English" in the FAQ as well.

For the actual answer, this is just my take. Feel free to modify it if you disagree on phrasing or want a different philosophy. From my point of view the important thing is just that this is addressed explicitly.

  • Well said! Well said! – Arlen Beiler Sep 11 '10 at 11:16
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Cross-post

I think this is a good time to discuss what should be in the faq. Top on my mind:

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There is no such thing as "legal" English (in the sense of allowed rather than of English used by the legal profession).

E.g. Is "non-vegetarian" a correct word?

  • This sounds like peeving as it's written, maybe you meant something like "there is no definitive standard for English" or something? – delete Sep 9 '10 at 4:33
  • @Shinto yes I agree this does sound a bit like peeving but the underlying point is I think perhaps important enough to merit mentioning in the FAQ. Your quoted sentence is a good start. – nohat Sep 9 '10 at 5:43

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