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I have been using Apple's dictionary app on my Mac, could someone tell me what the formal name of the characters are next to word 'Causation' in the screenshot and what is their purpose?

enter image description here

http://i.stack.imgur.com/bK2bD.png

  • They're IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols. – FumbleFingers Jul 20 '15 at 19:28
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    They give the pronunciation in a way that doesn't depend on which variety of English you speak. For many English people, a natural way to write the sound of the first syllable would be cor; but for most Scots and most Americans that would be very unhelpful, because it would suggest there should by an 'r' sound in the word, which there isn't. Conversely, for some Americans 'cot' and 'caught' have the same vowel, but for others they don't, so if you try and use everyday spelling you will mislead one or other group. IPA takes some learning, but avoids that sort of problem. – Colin Fine Jul 20 '15 at 19:58
  • @ColinFine: Well, the IPA can be used to provide pronunciation info across dialects, but it also can be used to provide information about pronunciations specific to one dialect. There's nothing special about the IPA compared to other alphabets in this regard. The IPA is simply a standardized set of symbols that can be used; how they're used varies depending on the purpose and many other things. – sumelic Jul 21 '15 at 4:41
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They are IPA phonetic symbols.

The entire collection is called the International Phonetic Alphabet.

International Phonetic Association

The IPA is the major as well as the oldest representative organisation for phoneticians ... 2013 marked the 125th anniversary of the first publication of the International Phonetic Alphabet and the formulation of the principles.

The aim of the IPA is to promote the scientific study of phonetics and the various practical applications of that science. In furtherance of this aim, the IPA provides the academic community world-wide with a notational standard for the phonetic representation of all languages - the International Phonetic Alphabet (also IPA). The latest version of the IPA Alphabet was published in 2005.

Note that different languages require a different subset of the symbols. In fact different dialects within a single language may be catered for, e.g.

International Phonetic Alphabet chart for English dialects

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