Thursday 15 December 2011

CEPD18 - preface and introduction

The new, i.e. eighteenth, edition of the CEPD (= Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary) is out now. The editors are Peter Roach, Jane Setter and John Esling.

In the editors' preface we are informed that one of the major devlopments for the CEPD (from the 17th edition onward) is the electronic version (in the form of a CD-ROM), which allows users to listen to "both British and American spoken pronunciations for every word in the dictionary" (iii). If we take "word" to mean "headword", this is true. But there is a major technical snag which excludes a not inconsiderable number of potential users - customers, if you like, from this development. I'm going to come back to this when I peruse the CD-ROM.

The editors also mention what they call "a new study aid" (iii): It comprises six short essays of about 1.5 pages each written by R. Cauldwell, J. Jenkins, J. Windsor Lewis, J. Marks, C. Sangster and L. Shockey.

"Above all," the editors write, "the aim of the dictionary is to include information which is relevant to the needs of contemporary users and which is presented in the clearest possible way" (iii). The lives of editors must be really hard: They've got to foresee the needs of potential users, and they must make sure that the users are neither dead nor in a state of suspended life because otherwise the latter wouldn't qualify as "contemporary users".

The introduction (vi-xix) in its first section tries to answer three questions:
  • Why do we need pronunciation dictionaries?
 As there is no biunique relation between letter and sound in English, a dictionary that concentrates on the sound-letter relations is of great help. This, of course, applies to words borrowed from other languages as well.
  • Can I use the dictionary if I don't know anything about phonetics?
 The editors do not answer this question with a plain and clear "yes". Rather, the reader is told that the pronunciation information is based in the IPA symbol set and that these symbols are explained on the inside front cover.
  • What is the CD-ROM for? 
All words and transcriptions of the printed version "are also included on the CD-ROM" (vi). One can listen to a pronunciation either in British or American English, and in case you can connect a microphone to your computer you can also record your own voice. Additionally you can search for any combination of IPA symbols or Roman letters.

Section 2 deals with the sounds of English. The two accents which the dictionary is based on are termed "BBC pronunciation" (or synonymously BBC English or BBC accent) and "General American" (or GA for short). Next the vowels and consonants of both accents are described in greater detail (vii-xii).

Section 3 describes how the CEPD is organized. The question is taken up again which types of pronuncation are represented. As with the other two pronunciation dictionaries, we find two models - a "more broadly based and accessible model accent for British English" (xii) it's (infelicitously) called "BBC English" (xii) and a type of American English which is "frequently heard from professional voices on national network news and information programmes" (xii) termed "General American" (xii).

We are informed that for common words a pronunciation is proposed which is "typical of a more casual, informal style of speaking, and a more careful pronunciation for uncommon words" (xiii). For me the word laryngeal is quite common, but is it common for a car mechanic as well?

More on CEPD18 in a later blog entry.

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