Dr Seuss ABC part 3

We’ve gone right through the alphabet (A-M) and (N-Z) but not yet encountered every sound in the English pronunciation system, partly because some sounds are comparatively rare and less likely to be found in a book this size, but mostly because they are usually represented by two letters together. Indeed, we have already seen ‘Aunt’,  ‘oiled’ and ‘owl’, and considered <ge, gi, gy> representing /dʒ/.

Consider the following sentences, especially the sounds in italics:
Camel on the ceiling
Willy Waterloo washes Warren Wiggins who is washing Waldo W oo.
Kitten. Kangaroo. Kick a kettle. Kite and a king’s kerchoo.
Vera Violet Vinn is very very very awful on her violin.
Uncle Ubb’s umbrella and his underwear, too.

here <th> represents /ð/. In fact, it does double-duty in English, also representing, in other words, the phonologically different sound /θ/ (as in ‘three)’. (These are different sounds; try ‘thy’ and ‘thigh’ or ‘teeth’ and teethe’. Technically, /ð/ is ‘voiced’ and /θ/ is ‘unvoiced’. If I was unaware to the difference until I started studying linguistics, I suspect many other people are, too.)

<ng> represents /ŋ/. It is most often found in the ‘-ing’ form of verbs (which are most often used in continuous verb tenses, as here, and as adjectives), but also in freestanding words such as ‘king’ and ‘ceiling’ (though the latter has an interesting history).

<sh> represents /ʃ/, but the sound can also be represented by other spellings.

<ch> represents /tʃ/, but the spelling can also represent other sounds and the sound can also be represented by other spellings. Like /dʒ/ (most often <j>), it starts similarly to one sound (/t/) and ends similarly to another (/ʃ/).

/ʒ/ is the voiced equivalent of /ʃ/. It does not have a standard spelling of its own, and is usually found in words like ‘Asia’ and ‘casual’ (and, indeed, ‘usually’). It is the rarest consonant sound in English, and does not occur in this book.

There are also six more vowel sounds: /ɔ:/ in ‘awful’, /ʊ/ also in ‘awful’, /u:/ in ‘Woo’, and /ɛə/ in ‘underwear’) (in this book), and /ɜ/ (as in ‘pert’) and ‘ʊə’ (as in ‘tour’). These rare(r) vowel sounds are more often subject to regional and national differences.

So, we end up with 44 sounds (in my variety of English, standard Australian English, and many others) represented by 26 letters. I’ve mentioned a few variations along the way, and those of you from other countries may have spotted others (or may be able to think of some now that I’ve mentioned it). Obviously, there is not a direct match between spelling and pronunciation. There are many reasons for this, and these reasons start getting very complicated very quickly.


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