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Phonetics
 
© Charles Chandler
 
Originally, all spoken languages were represented phonetically, and they all had symbols that corresponded unambiguously with individual phonemes. Some languages, such as Spanish, are still spelled phonetically, making it easy to read. So how did we wind up with words in English that are not pronounced the way they are spelled? When a word is borrowed from another language, and then naturalized into the way people in a particular region would tend to say something like that, the pronunciation changes. Since changing the spelling is inconvenient, the characters no longer match up with the sounds.
 
Many systems have been developed to attempt to remedy this situation, for particular languages, or for all languages. The biggest problem at this point is that technology is now getting in the way. We have computer keyboards that work quite nicely for a limited number of characters, but would be unworkable if we had to use different keys for each different phoneme. And typing two-letter sequences to access all of these characters would be a nightmare.
 
Yet technology can fix what it broke. Electronically, it's easy to swap one spelling for another. This means that computer software can offer the option of displaying a language using any spelling scheme that the user chooses. It might be dictionary English, or phonetic English (using the system recommended below, or any other), or it might be English but with the phonetic spelling from some other language (so that non-English speakers can learn the sound of words, without first having to learn the alphabet). In other words, phonetics can be a display/input mode, and we need not address the issue of how we're going to convert everything to a new system. The conversion should be done on the fly, and as a user preference, not a global mandate.
 
The phonetic system presented below does what others do not — it's as simple as possible, and it's type-able. Note that long vowels, shown here with acute accents to distinguish them from short vowels, could be typed as two of the same vowel, as in [monkee], but would be printed with the accent.
 
Most of it is pretty straight-forward, but a few items deserve comment.
  • "C" is not used for the "k" or "s" sounds, which already have letters, leaving it free to represent the "ch" sound, as in Italian.
  • "Q" and "X" are not used for anything, being replaced by "kw" and "ks" respectively.
  • This leaves two English phonemes that do not already have dedicated characters, and cannot be reasonably constructed from character combinations. These can be typed as they are now, but will be displayed as the IPA symbol.
    • "Sh" as in "sheep".
    • "Th" as in "think".
The IPA pronunciation is shown for American English, though they use a lot of characters that are not even in the extended set, much less on the keyboard, so nobody is going to type these.
 
 
old example new
a pain, pane
path
about, run
taught, awe
aa
a
a
aw

æ
ə,ʌ
ɒ
b bird b b
c cat
chicken
k
c
k
t͡ʃ
d dog d d
e eel
edit, spotted
ee
e
i
ɛ​
f fish f f
g goat g g
h horse h h
i wise
sit
ii
i

ɪ
j jaguar j d͡ʒ
k kangaroo k k
l leopard l l
m monkey m m
n neanderthal
think
starling
n
nk
ng
n
ŋ
ŋ
o antelope
osprey
trout
hoist
oo
o
ow
oy
o
ɑ

ɔɪ
p panther p p
q quail kw
r rabbit r r
s seal
sheep
pleasure
s
sh
jz
s
ʃ
ʒ
t tiger
that
t
th
t
θ
u through
put
porcupine
uu
u
yu
u
ʊ
yu
v vampire v v
w wolf w w
x fox ks x
y yak y j
z zebra z z

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