Pronunciation Guides

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader, wondering about the pronunciation of caricature, asks if I would consider including the phonetic pronunciation of words I discuss.

Many years ago, when I first began writing for DWT, I provided phonetic transcriptions and talked rather a lot about pronunciation. Two considerations led to my dropping the transcriptions and treading carefully on matters of pronunciation.

The first was the fact that I had difficulty deciding on what phonetic transcription to use. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was my first choice, but many non-specialist readers do not like to deal with it, and the symbols don’t always come up as intended. I tried various notations of my own, using letters and letter-combinations, but none worked to my satisfaction.

The second consideration was that some readers do not take kindly to being told that one pronunciation is preferable to another. This I learned by way of the Comments.

In sum, I discontinued my efforts to provide phonetic help, trusting readers to find a congenial pronunciation authority of their own liking. Here are some options.

The one I use most is Howjsay. It favo(u)rs British pronunciation, but gives the US pronunciation when it differs significantly. For caricature, only the British pronunciation is given.

Online dictionaries provide both phonetic transcriptions and audio clips.

The Oxford English Dictionary uses the IPA phonetic transcription:
caricature (ˈkarɪkəˌtjʊə/). It does not show the US pronunciation.

Merriam-Webster uses their own phonetic transcription: caricature: ˈker-i-kə-ˌchu̇r. It also offers alternatives: -ˌchər, -ˌtyu̇r, -ˌtu̇r, ˈka-ri-

Dictionary-dot-com offers a letter-only phonetic version: caricature: kar-i-kuh-cher, -choor. Readers have the option to click for the IPA transcription.

The Cambridge Dictionary gives both the British and US pronunciations:
caricature: ˈkær.ɪ.kə.tʃʊər. /ˈker.ə.kə.tʃʊr

Collins Dictionay gives both British and US pronunciations in IPA: caricature kærɪkətʃʊəʳ. US: -tʃər

The Google Dictionary eschews IPA and gives caricature: /ˈkerikəCHər,ˈkerikəˌCHo͝or/

Other pronunciation sites, not dictionaries, offer pronunciation help. Some are more useful than others.

Forvo is fun to explore. It gives an IPA phonetic transcription of the word: caricature: ˈkærɪkətʃʊə(r). Then it gives audio clips of different speakers saying the word. Caricature has three speakers, two British and one US. Forvo also offers French, Spanish, and Italian pronunciation audio clips.

The most interesting and thorough pronunciation site I found is called PhoTransEdit. If you want to transcribe an English word to IPA text, there’s a Text to Phonetics option. If you know how to use IPA, there’s an IPA keyboard for you to use. Finally, there’s an online phonetic transcriber you can download to your own site. And it’s all free.

I came across two more sites that claim to offer pronunciation help, but, although they may possess entertainment value, they did not strike me as useful.

One is called Youglish. When I typed in caricature, a video came up with a woman talking at length about nothing in particular, in the course of which she said the word caricature.

Another source bills itself as a “crowdsourced Pronunciation Dictionary” for 89 languages. It may be that I lack the necessary computer skills, but I never could find the pronunciation of caricature. I did find a place that asked me to record my own pronunciation of the word. And they gave the IPA transcriptions: ˈkærɪkəʧʊə*ˈkærɪkəʧʊə|. The site is cluttered and ads keep popping up.

A printed pronunciation reference that I use is The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations by Charles Elster. Instead of using IPA, he made his own pronunciation key because he assumes that “most readers do not enjoy trying to discern and decipher minute, arcane characters and symbols and resent having to refer to the key for every word.”

The word caricature does not come up on his radar of mispronounced words. If he were to write it phonetically, it would probably be either KAR-i-kuh-CHUUR or KAR-i-kuh-CHOOR. To me, KAR looks as if it should be pronounced like car, as in “My car is blue.” Elster would render car as KAHR.

As Elster says, no phonetic key is perfect “or even comprehensive.” They are all approximations.

So, for the reader who prompted this post, I have to say that I’ve tried it in the past, but I now take the Bartleby when it comes to providing phonetic transcriptions: I prefer not to.

I think Elster is right when it comes to the IPA. And with so many excellent resources only a click away, I see no reason to devise a key of my own.

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1 Response to “Pronunciation Guides”

  • venqax

    When you’re just concerned with English, you can use respelling, The one Wikipedia uses is actually pretty good. KAIR-i-kə-chər . I LOVE talking prə-NUN-see-AY-shən, literally. I see no reason at all why proper pronunciation should not have the same standard of standards that spelling or basic grammar do. There is “sitch a thang” as Standard American English, and that wasn’t it. Regionalisms are fine, but keep them in your region. Kind of like not wearing your pə-JA-məz to the office.

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