Q: ELSA’s IPA transcriptions are not the same as the ones I find in my favorite online dictionary. Is ELSA serious about the IPA?
A: Yes we are! But different dictionaries or online sources often have equally valid, but slightly different editorial preferences. We try to keep our transcriptions as simple as possible for our users, while staying aligned with the major reference dictionaries. Below are five areas where most of the editorial differences arise.
1. Predictable vowel length
Vowel length (or duration) is predictable in English. For example, /i/ is always long, while /ɪ/ is always short. As a consequence, some dictionaries do not represent vowel length. For those that do, it is represented by the symbol /ː/. For simplicity, ELSA does not represent vowel length.
2. Predictable variants
Schwa can often be dropped in some predictable contexts.. Some dictionaries prefer to represent these words with the schwa, while others prefer the version without it. ELSA uses the transcription with the schwa, but always accepts both variants.
3. Narrow transcription
In some popular online sources (like Wiktionary), you may find little extra symbols modifying an IPA symbol that you are familiar with. These are used by speech pathologists, linguists, etc., to provide extra details about how the sound is articulated. Dictionaries typically don’t use those, nor does ELSA.
4. The case of /r/
The exact IPA symbol for the English “R” sound is /ɹ /. You may come across this symbol in some online sources but, typically, dictionaries simply use the regular letter “r”, for convenience. ELSA does too.
5. Non-US English symbols
If the sources you are consulting use a schwa to represent the pronunciation of the letter “R” their focus is probably on British English. Same thing if you see the symbol /ɒ/, in a word like “hot”. At this point, ELSA does not support these symbols, but only those that represent US English pronunciations.