English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

From google dictionary: /əˈkəlt/

From my textbook: ['ɔkʌlt, ɔ'kʌlt, ə-]

The difference of those two is HUGE, Could you give me an explanation ?

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

In practice, the distinction between /ʌ/ and /ə/ is close to nonexistent in English. They are very similar phonetically, and [ə] can only occur in unstressed syllables, while [ʌ] can only occur in stressed, closed syllables. Because of this many linguists consider them to be allophones, and many dictionaries transcribe them with the same phoneme or treat them interchangably. So the fact that your textbook has [ʌ] while google has [ə] is of little significance.

The only other difference between the two transcriptions is the treatment of the first syllable. I believe that the pronunciation with stress on the first syllable is non-standard, but if the first syllable is stressed, then the vowel is unambiguously [ɔ]. If the first syllable is unstressed, then [ɔ] will normally be reduced to [ə], which your textbook has as an alternate.

So they're not very different, after all.

[Edit: If I'm picking nits, I would point out that the second syllable in my speech has no vowel at all, but rather a syllabic /l/: [ə'kʰl̩t]. The vertical line beneath the [l] indicates syllabicity. However, I've never seen a dictionary that actually transcribes syllabic liquids as such, since it tends to freak out language learners, and linguistically naive native speakers disbelieve in them.]

share|improve this answer
I guess the reason for not transcribing as syllabic [l] is also because dictionary transcriptions tend to be fairly broad: arguably if they went into that level of detail, there'd be all sorts of other details/variations that could be motivated, and then the transcriptions would start to lose their purpose. – Neil Coffey Feb 19 '11 at 2:31
@Neil, good point. – JSBձոգչ Feb 19 '11 at 2:32
+1 I also believe dictionaries usually simplify a specific subclass of a sound class (like syllabic l of l) if they consider it the unvaried pronunciation of that class in a specific environment (like mute e + l) in the language of the dictionary. At least I have heard similar reasoning. They probably make this choice because it is, as you say, easier for most readers, and because of inherent variation in pronunciation even among speakers of the standard dialect, as @Neil said. – Cerberus Feb 19 '11 at 3:31
If stressing the first syllable is non-standard, why would that be the first pronunciation listed? I think that at least some speakers of en-gb stress the first syllable when using it as a noun and the second when using it as an adjective. – Peter Taylor Feb 19 '11 at 8:20

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.