A phonemic transcription, sometimes also known as “broad” transcription, represents each distinct speech sound with a separate symbol. The most widely accepted system of symbols is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). See the phonemic transcription example below:
birthday = /’bɜ:θdeɪ/
Phonemic transcription is an alphabetic system for showing the sounds produced in a particular language, without any extraneous detail. Everyone pronounces the language differently; but what people hear is a number of ‘meaningful’ sounds, which are called phonemes, and these sounds are distinguishable by native speakers.
For example, ‘bet’ and ‘bed’ have the two sounds ‘t’ and ‘d’ which alter the meaning of the word, thus making them different. Another example is ‘ton’ and ‘tongue’ or ‘run’ and ‘rung’. When the sound alters the meaning of the word, it becomes important to allocate separate symbols to make them distinguishable. For ‘run’ and ‘rung’, the English phonemes /n/ and /ŋ/ are used to tell the sounds apart: /rʌn/ and /rʌŋ/
Phonemic notation commonly uses IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols that are rather close to the default pronunciation of a phoneme.
Phonetic transcripts are very useful for foreign language students and teachers, as well as linguists, speech-language pathologists, lexicographers, translators, singers, actors and constructed language creators. In each of these fields, careful consideration is given to the way that language is produced. There is a focus on different speech sounds and a study of pronunciation; phonetic transcription facilitates this.
‘emic’ – what a culture thinks of themselves and how they view themselves (what native speakers use and what most writing systems are based on – phonemic)
‘etic’ – how an outsider views that culture (how we view a foreign language and all the sounds they make. We record all of those sound changes – phonetic)
Phonetic spelling of words helps us to understand what native speakers are actually saying. A lot of native speakers don’t even realise they’re producing sounds in certain ways. [Courtesy of #DailyMIKE 009 “The difference between ‘phonemic’ and ‘phonetic’”]
There are three ways of representing the word ‘port’:
Phonemic transcription: / pɔ:t/
Phonetic transcription: [p ͪ ɔ:t]
In the example of phonemic transcription, we learn that the word ‘port’ contains a silent , and that the vowel is long, denoted by two dots /:/
(Phonemic transcriptions like this appear in most dictionaries and represent a very useful study tool as they provide a lot of information about the pronunciation of the word.)
In the example of phonetic transcription, it’s necessary to look more closely at the pronunciation of each sound, therefore we must aspirate the /p/ sound –
This is shown in the phonetic transcription by [ʰ]. We also notice that the long vowel /ɔ:/ is reduced in length due to the following /t/ sound – we can represent this in a phonetic transcription with one dot instead of two [ˑ]
The difference is in the level of detail – a phonetic transcription contains a lot more information on the speech produced, e.g. characteristics of an accent of a language.
Though the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) is designed for transcribing phones, not phonemes, it’s used for phonemic transcription as well.
(The letter-sound correspondence can be rather loose when the IPA is used for phonemic transcription.)
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