Saturday 2 April 2011

Disguised emails

Readers of this blog know all too well that I am a nit-picker and I can’t stand stupid mistakes or inaccuracies in dictionaries or ELT, EFL/ESL materials. That’s why this week I want to discuss two interesting, but at the same time cringe-making, phonemic transcriptions of a couple of common English words I’ve spotted in i) a magazine for Italian EFL students and ii) a famous Italian dictionary.

The first transcription I’m going to talk to you about is of the word disguised, transcribed dɪsˈɡɑiːzd on page 22 of last month’s issue of Speak Up, an Italian magazine written in English and aimed at EFL students. In this magazine, words which are thought to be particularly difficult for Italians are highlighted, translated, and sometimes put into phonemic transcription.

As one can see, the phonetic notation offered above is wrong as the term disguised is today usually transcribed phonemically as dɪsˈɡaɪzd, dɪz-, dəs-, dəz-. But what’s wrong with it? Well, firstly the way the diphthong is represented. OK, I know: with many younger RP speakers nowadays – especially those who live in and around London – this closing diphthong tends to start back, thus sounding more like äɪ, ɑ̈ɪ, but I doubt the Speak Up pronunciation editors – if ever one exists – are aware of this tendency or wanted to underline this particular pronunciation by means of a more complete phonetic transcription. Also, the diphthong in question is usually transcribed , not ɑi, because in RP it glides towards ɪ not i, and it doesn’t take the length mark ː as it is already intrinsically long (diphthongs are similar to long vowels) – if anything the first part of the diphthong is strong while the second is very weak and is much shorter and quieter than a. Thus, aːɪ, I suppose, would have been more acceptable and also more realistic than ɑiː.

Ok, maybe readers of Speak Up won’t have noticed all this, but they will certainly have noticed errors like “ɜ as in box” and “ɘ as in mother” on page 5, where phonemic symbols for English are introduced and exemplified – and sometimes exchanged for phonetic ones.

This week’s second howler is from the Italian dictionary Il Devoto-Oli 2011. On page 958, the authors provide the Italian, as well as the English, pronunciation of the term e(-)mail. In their opinion, English native speakers say ˌiːmˈeɪl, rather than ˈiːmeɪl. Why? Is ˌiːmˈeɪl an Anglo-Italian pronunciation? Also, why is the stress mark not before the syllable -meɪl? Do they think that in English e(-)mail is written something like eem ale?

I give up!


  1. thanks for the heads up! It's really awesome to read a lot of details from your blog because this is something helpful to my class. I love sharing what I read online and my professor gets really amazed by that.. or by technology maybe.