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PRONUNCIATION AND PHONETICS

With such a large resource of oral material available for the Dictionary, a record of pronunciation in phonetic transcription, following the system of the International Phonetic Alphabet, has been included in the headnotes for certain items. Unlike many general commercial dictionaries, however, our work does not present phonetics, or respelling, for all the words which have been treated. Where certain words differ from pronunciations recorded in the principal English and North American dictionaries,where the word exhibits some unusual or interesting features, or where the spelling is ambiguous or a misleading guide to the local pronunciations or stress patterns, phonetic transcriptions may be given. The phonetic record in the Dictionary is therefore selective, as in such analogous dictionaries as DA, DC and DJE.

Further limitations on the indication of pronunciations are a result of the particular evidence which has been assembled. Certain words and phrases have been noted sporadically or in systematic field interviews by researchers and trained students. A great number have been transcribed from over 400 tape recordings in the Folklore Archive concerned with folklore topics, reminiscences, occupations and other aspects of Newfoundland cultural tradition. Tape-recorded evidence has the great advantage of immediacy and vividness, and although some of this is inevitably lost in transcribing the conventions of the spoken register into the more formal conventions of print, the quotations taken from tape are drawn from the natural context of free conversation rather than the somewhat artificial one of field interviews.

The excerpting process itself inevitably poses some problems. Each phonetic transcription cited in the headnotes represents either the pronunciation of a response to a collector perhaps using a questionnaire or of a form cited from within a segment of continuous speech. The extraction of a word from its context sometimes gives a misleading impression of its typical pronunciation and placement of stress which may differ from the specific one in the running text. The immediate phonetic environment in the utterance, for example, conditions certain features of pronunciation, especially of initial and final sounds. A similar problem arises when we wish to indicate the pronunciation of a noun in the singular and our tape recordings have it only in the plural, or when we wish to give the infinitive of a verb but have only the inflected form in our evidence. Syllable stress may also reflect certain patterns of contrast, abbreviation or emphasis in the context which differ from those typical of the word as normally uttered in isolation.

By the very nature of human speech it is inevitable that the pronunciation of some words is very well attested in any corpus of tape recordings while other pronunciations are poorly attested or not represented at all. The pronunciations given in the headnotes are therefore not to be regarded as comprehensive or definitive.

As they represent only the information we have at our disposal in tapes and transcriptions, variants cannot be ranked in order of frequency or by other hierarchical means. In the absence of comprehensive and statistical studies of regional variation we have therefore displayed the range of phonetic evidence in as neutral a manner as possible, allowing the variants to convey a collective impression of the current pronunciations of local forms. It is important to note, however, that information concerning the individual speakers recorded on tape, together with precise reference to the location and date of each recording and other important contextual details on file in MUNFLA, enables us to identify the pronunciations of a given transcription with specific people and places. Surprisingly, however, the tape recordings reveal remarkably little variation in the distribution of forms throughout the Province. Nevertheless, the predominance of English or Irish features, for example, in the speech of individuals in specific communities sometimes indicates the preservation of pronunciations typical of regional usage in their respective parent cultures.


Figure 4

The phonetic transcription of the word to be exemplified is given in square brackets after the designation of the part of speech or the listing of variant spellings, where these are given. In general, pronunciations are given in the singular form for nouns and in the infinitive for verbs. Where a number of pronunciations are available, these are listed according to the vowel of the syllable under strongest stress, short vowel forms being listed first, followed by long vowel forms and diphthongs. Within each of the vowel groups, the stressed vowels are listed from high front to low and from low back to high, in the numerical order of the Cardinal Vowels,30 followed by the central vowels, reading from high to low, in the sequence [Phonetics Unavailable] (see Figure 4). In the few cases where two or more pronunciation variants have the same strongly stressed vowel, the forms are listed in the same way but based this time on the order of the vowels under secondary or minimal stress. For example [Phonetics Unavailable] precedes [Phonetics Unavailable]. Occasionally, where the pronunciation of the headword itself is obvious and therefore no phonetic transcription for it is included, we indicate unusual pronunciations and stress patterns of phrases or combinations immediately after the relevant forms within the article.


  1. Daniel Jones, An Outline of English Phonetics, 8th ed (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1956), 36.