I’ve seen pretty often in phonetic transcriptions for English speakers who weren’t familiar with the IPA the phoneme /e/ or /ɛ/ transcribed as ay:
Here "lejos" (/'le.xos/) is transcribed as lay-hoss1.
Here "te" and "menos" (/te/ and /'me.nos/) are transcribed as tay and may-nohs.
This seems to be a pretty common spelling for the sound ‘eh’, which I find really baffling since the spelling ‘ay’ is generally pronounced either as /eɪ/ or occasionally /aɪ/, but rarely is it pronounced as /e/ or /ɛ/. Consider:
- /eɪ/: day, bay, may, play, away, always, bayonet.
- /aɪ/: cayenne, Uruguay.
The only instance I can think of ay being pronounced as /ɛ/ is in says, which I consider a somewhat exceptional pronunciation.
So why is it that /e/ is generally transcribed as ‘ay’? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to transcribe it as ‘eh’?
Do native English speakers instinctively pronounce ‘eh’ when they read ‘ay’ in phonetic transcriptions? In other words, if some native English speaker who didn’t speak Spanish tries to pronounce ‘lejos’ using the ‘ley-hoss’ transcription, would they really pronounce /'le.xos/, or would they pronounce /'leɪ.xos/ instead?
1 For the sake of simplification, consider /h/ and /x/ the same phoneme