Sunday, 7 December 2014

GA and GB prons in monolingual EFL dictionaries

Recently a thought crossed my mind (yes, this happens occasionally): When did general monolingual dictionaries intended for learners of English as an additional language include transcriptions of both main reference accents - General British (aka RP) AND General American? I walked to our departmental library shelves to find an answer.
One of the widely used dictionaries is The Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English of which you see the dust jacket of the 2nd edition.

Neither the first nor second edition contain American English pronunciations. The first edition indicating them is the third of 1974. In the acknowledgment section written by the editor A S Hornby we read that it was Jack Windsor Lewis,
Jack Windsor Lewis and Albert Sidney Hornby in 1974 (photo credit: JWL)
at that time lecturer at the University of Leeds, who provided the transcriptions. That American English pronunciations were included is revealed in the section on "Pronunciation and stress" (pp. xii-xv). The letter r, which is almost always sounded in GA as it is a hyperrhotic accent, is not indicated in the transcriptions if it would be the only difference between GB and GA. Dictionary users who intend to speak GA are expected to add the /r/; in other words, when they look up the word form, they will find /fɔm/ only and are expected to adopt the pronunciation /fɔrm/ (I'm using the symbols proposed in the 3rd edition). Though it saves printing space it's a bit infelicitous in a dictionary intended for learners.
Matters become even less felicitous with words such as curry and furry. For curry we find /kʌrɪ US: kɜɪ/ - the reader must transform this to /kɜrɪ/ - , but in the case of furry the learner is told to pronounce it /fɜrɪ/.Don't get me wrong! There's logic in this. All I'm saying is that it is less comfy than what we are used to these days. Maybe Jack can tell us more about the editorial motives behind this policy.

Any changes in the fourth edition? More on this topic in a future post.

Update: See also the latest article by Jack on phonetics in advanced learner's dictionaries.

1 comment:

  1. Our dear fellow bloggist has as∙t “When did general monolingual dictionaries intended for learners of English as an additional language include transcriptions of both main reference accents - General British (aka RP) AND General American?”
    He’s de∙d right in citing the 1974 third edition of the Hornby Advanced Learner’s Dictionary as being first in that field. If I may quote fellow bloggist Geoff Lindsey writing in his blogpost under the title Generality at the 23rd of October, he sed, in talking about the term ‘General British’:
    "Jack coined the term as part of a parallel treatment of British and American pronunciation, “General British” matching the very well established term General American. It was thanks to Jack that the 1974 Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary published “for the first time in any major EFL dictionary, its (100,000) entries [each] in American pronunciation as well as British” — so let’s also take the opportunity to salute the 40th anniversary of that landmark”.
    I added: “That’s more than OUP themselves have done tho the anniversary shoudve been well worth their commemorating. It signalled their remarkable success in leading the way in that field and instituting a practice that was, with as little delay as cd be imagined, taken up universally by all publishers of such dictionaries!”
    To comment on Kraut’s points about the actual transcriptions, there were cert∙n∙y things I’d like to’ve done diff∙rently with hindsight but letting GA users take their /r/s from the orthography seemed a useful space-saver at the time. And inviting users to interpret the symbol /ɜ/ as rhotic or not according to their usual habits also seemed convenient. I dou∙t that these things bothered any user very much.
    My chief worry at the time was that, again to save space, I decided to offer only one pronunciation for each word and that me∙nt making 200,000 decisions in less time than I cou∙dve wisht for ideally. I didnt want to join the stampede to use the Gimson lengthmark-burdened transcription and they found two really good people to take over doing the transcriptions when everybody joined in the mass movement to using the new transcription of the Jones EPD (which Jones, like me in a sense, wou∙dntve liked).
    The two were, by the way, Gim himself and Susan Ramsaran.