Thursday, 29 March 2012

(O)ALD and RP

Presently the Advamced Learner's Dictionary of Current English (= ALD)  (later: Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (= OALD)) is in its 8th edition.

Here's a list of its publication years:
yearxxxxxxxxxxphonetics editor1
1948 (1942)2xxxxxxxxxxnon nominatus
1963xxxxxxxxxxnon nominatus
Jack Windsor Lewis
Susan Ramsaran
Michael Ashby3
Michael Ashby
Michael Ashby
8th Line 3 Col 2 2010
Michael Ashby

The question I'd like to pursue is about what term the editors used for the British English model they based their pronunciation recommendations on.

1. First editions (1942/1948)
I don't have access to the 1st ed. either of the ISED or the ALD, so I have to make do with two scans - the cover of the ISED and a scan of two of its pages:

credit: ??

2. Second edition (1963)

No mention is made of the pronunciation standard or norm on which the transcriptions are based. What we are told is that "the transcription is a broad one, as used by Professor Daniel Jones in his English Pronouncing Dictionary" (xi).

3. Third edition (1974)

J Windsor Lewis is mentioned as the person responsible for the "phonetic transcriptions for all entries and the stress patterns added to all compounds and collocations" (unpaginated). "... and idioms" should have been added! To my knowledge the ALD, from its 3rd edition up to the present day (with some exceptions), is the only general monolingual English dictionary which indicates stress patterns for idioms.

Try, for example, the idiom 'to have a good head on one's shoulders': First, where would you place the main stress? Then, try to look it up in a general dictionary other than the ALD. Found it? Chances are slim that you did. Now, look it up in the ALD! Found it? It's listed in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th editions. Answer: The main stress is on 'head'.

In a separate section titled "Pronunciation and stress" (pp. xii-xv) J Windsor Lewis states that he transcriptions represent "the best known variety of British English" (xii) and of American English. The latter is known as General American (abbreviated to GA), "the other may be conveniently termed General British" (xii) (abbreviated to 'GB' in his notes to the dictionary).

4. Fourth edition (1989)

Phonetics editor (see p. vi) now is Susan Ramsaran. A P Cowie, chief editor of this edition, writes on her: "The job of Phonetics Editor was taken on and very ably carried out by a close colleague, Dr Susan Ramsaran. She has provided, as a new feature, a full treatment of variant pronunciations and of stress in idioms and illustrative phrases." (vii) It is true that one finds the odd additional pron variant not listed in the 3rd ed. (eg. the weak form variant /ənd/ for and, but the statement that the indication of stress in idioms is "a new feature" is plain wrong.

I do not know who was responsible for the explanatory section on pronunciation on p. xviii. All we get to know about the model accent is that it is based on the "normal British pronunciation" and the "normal American one" (xviii). In the back matter to the dictionary on p. 1547 there are six lines on "[m]odels of pronunciation": "The British English form is that which has been called Received Pronunciation (RP) or General British." On p. 1552 we are informed about the American English model: It is "one which is widely acceptable in the US and has been called General American.". The label used to indicate the American English variant is US.

5. Fifth edition (1995)

From this edition of 1995 onwards the phonetics editor has been Michael Ashby. In the preface (p. vi) Michael is said to have overhauled stress treatment of phrasal verbs and idioms. What this act of overhaul entails remains to be investigated in detail.

To find some statements about the underlying model(s) one has to take a look at the back inside cover, which is unpaginated. Here we read: "The first pronunciation given in the dictionary is that of younger speakers of General British (Brit). This includes RP (Received Pronunciation) and a range of similar accents which are not strongly regional. [...] The American pronunciations chosen are as far as possible the most general (not associated with any particular region)."

I would like to have been given an example of a transcription of a lemma illustrating an accent similar to but not identical with RP.

6. Sixth edition (2000)

For this edition Michael Ashby is said to have improved the "representation of American English" (vi). The description of the pronunciation model(s) for this edition is practically identical with the wording in the 5th ed., so I won't repeat it here.
The label for the American English pron is AmE.

7. Seventh edition (2005)

No relevant changes in the description of the pron models. The label for the American English pron is now NAmE.

8. Eighth edition (2010)

No changes as regards pron model descriptions.

Starting with the 3rd edition (with the exception of the fourth) the term used for the British English model pronunciation is General British. This notion encompasses RP and some additional accents of low regional marking.

1A name is entered only if credit is explicitly given.
2 The 1948 edition distributed by OUP was a photographic reprint of the dictionary published in Tokyo in 1942 under the title Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary (= ISED).
3Michael Ashby retired from UCL in 2012.


  1. A good 'un.
    Michael Ashby retired in 2011, btw.

    1. Thanks, John. As for 2011, I should have known better. On the other hand, I wouldn't have begrudged him an additional year at UCL or two or three ...

  2. Hornby contributed the phonetic stuff himself in ALD1 and ALD2. His use of phonetics was not revealed at the very brief ALD1 introductory section headed 'Pronunciation'. This was limited to seven lines about the International Phonetic Alphabet in general. However, its link to pages xxvi to xxvii led to all he had to say about the pronunciations, eg "What [(h)wɔt] may be pronounced [wɔt] as in Southern English or [hwɔt] as in Northern English and America". He referred to Jones in a paragraph headed "The Sound [r]". In it he again used his term saying "In Southern English" but adding in brackets (with disdain?) "(or what Professor Daniel Jones calls “Received Pronunciation”) r is silent when it occurs at the end of a word or when it is followed by another consonant..In other parts of the English-speaking world, the r may be sounded in every case". His symbols for phonemes were all exactly those in Jones's EPD at that day. His only departure from Jones's practice was that at primary and secondary stressed syllables he used accents, acute over the simple vowels and initial elements of diphthongs for the former and grave over the latter. For ALD2 he didn't change much except to drop the stress accents and come into line with Jones's IPA stress-marks.

    1. @JWL: Thanks for these int'r'sting additions. In ALD2 the link that you mention is to pages xxxi to xxxii. However, there's no section on the sound /r/ in this edition.
      Hornby uses the expression "British usage" on p. xi.