Phonetics - Unit Three - Lesson No. 19


Now that you have gained some knowledge of the IPA chart, it is time to learn about transcription and its types.

Many types of transcriptions are possible. Generally speaking, we can distinguish between two main types of transcriptions: impressionistic transcription vs. systematic transcription .

Impressionistic transcription

In impressionistic transcription , the symbols are used just to provide an impressionistic record of the sounds as heard. Such kind of records might be made by a speech pathologist who has not yet found anything about the patient. They might also be made by a linguist hearing the first few words in a language that had never been transcribed before. In theory, an impressionistic is one in which the symbols represent intersections of general phonetic categories. Phoneticians very seldom make a total use of impressionistic transcription. Virtually, the only occasion when a completely impressionistic transcription is necessary is in the investigation of an infant’s prelinguistic babbling.

Systematic transcription

The other type of transcription is called systematic transcription . Systematic transcription is one that in some way reflects the systematic, linguistic facts of the utterance being described. Systematic (phonetic) transcription is subdivided into two divisions: phonemic vs. allophonic and simple vs. comparative .

Phonemic transcription

A phonemic transcription is one in which all the different words in a language are represented by the smallest possible number of different symbols. For example,

  • Task /'tāsk/
  • Play /'plɛı/
  • Spill /'spıl/
  • Better /'bɛtər/
Allophonic transcription

An allophonic transcription is one that uses a large number of distinct symbols so that it can differentiate among systematic, allophonic differences in the sounds of an utterance. Each one of the words in the above example has one (or more) allophone that can be represented by using the allophonic transcription.

A phonemic transcription plus the statements (explanations) convey exactly the same information as an allophonic transcription. The difference between these two types of transcriptions is made explicit within the transcription itself or within the set of statements that accompanies the transcription.

Simple vs. comparative

Another distinction among systematic phonetic transcriptions is that between a simple and a comparative use of particular symbols. Asimple transcription is one that uses the simplest IPA symbols – ordinary letters of the Roman alphabet such as [a, r, b, k]. A comparative transcription is one that uses more exotic and unusual symbols which convey greater phonetic details.

The difference between simple and comparative transcriptions is based on the grounds that the use of more specific symbols simplicity reflects a comparison between the general phonetic values of the simple symbols and the more precise values of the exotic symbols.

In conclusion, a broad transcription is one that is both phonemic (as opposed to allophonic) and simple (as opposed to comparative). A narrow transcription may show allophonic distinctions, or it may show more phonetic detail by using more specific symbols, or it may do both these things.

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