Why does the Cambridge Dictionary use /eɪ/ as the vowel sound in bass in "Sea Bass"?

Is this caused by the plosive sound of B?

I think my ear is not distorted. It should be:

Sea Bass = /ˈsiː ˌbæs/

Bass = /beɪs/





  • Yes, the fish and the instrument are pronounced differently. Is that your question? – Yosef Baskin May 26 '17 at 22:25
  • Why cambridge dictionary put /eɪ/ to "Sea Bass"? – Bonn May 26 '17 at 22:28
  • I don't know. I see /bæs/ which I recognize as my pronunciation. Rhymes with class. – Yosef Baskin May 26 '17 at 22:35
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    I get /ˈsiː ˌbeɪs/ as the pronunciation for sea bass at that link which, as far as I'm concerned, is wrong. As @YosefBaskin says, the bass in sea bass should be /bæs/. I am a /beɪs/ when I sing, but I think I might like to eat some /bæs/. – Roger Sinasohn May 26 '17 at 22:47
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    Online dictionaries sometimes have errors regarding pronunciation of two words that are spelled the same. This is one of those times. – Arm the good guys in America May 26 '17 at 23:40

This is mostly just a guess, but I think it is a reasonable one: It is a mistake. This seems especially likely since on the webpage you provided for the Cambridge dictionary, the ˌ/bæs/ definition does appear. Just not under the definition for the fish. As for how this mistake could have emerged, there are two distinct possibilities that come to mind.

One Heteronym May Have Been Confused for Another

Bass as in the fish, and bass as opposed to treble to describe tonal pitch are homographs, but not homophones. The /beɪs/ pronunciation corresponds to the tonal definition of the word, rather than the fish's name. The fish's name should be /bæs/, as shown in the entries for Sea Bass shown in Collins English Dictionary—Complete and Unabridged 12th edition, The American Heritage Dictionary 5th Edition and Random House Webster's College Dictionary (©2010) seen on The Free Dictionary by Farlex. This distinction seems almost universal, and the English Learner's Guide to Homophones and Heteronyms by S.J. Liberman seems to confirm this by using the two different pronunciations as the division between the definitions.

Confusing the two pronunciations is a reasonable, since outside of the written label on the relevant radio dial and perhaps references to the bass guitar, references to tonal bass are somewhat rare.

Something that makes it especially confusing is that it seems as if the /beɪs/ pronunciation would make much more sense in English as if it was written as base instead, since it refers to the lower tones at the base of the sound range. In An American Dictionary of the English Language (A.D.E.L.) by Noah Webster, it is noted that Bass is written in imitation of the italian basso:

BASS, noun In music, the base; the deepest or gravest part of a tune. This word is thus written in imitation of the Italian basso, which is the Eng. base, low; yet with the pronunciation of base and plural bases, a gross error that ought to be corrected; as the word used in pronunciation is the English word base.

I am not quite sure how to directly compare pronunciation frequency and especially not for comparing the frequency of mistakes but if the mistake itself is relatively rare, it is probably because this is one of the most common examples of a homograph with differing pronunciations used. Merriam-Webster uses this example in their definition of Heteronym:

one of two or more homographs (such as a bass voice and bass, a fish) that differ in pronunciation and meaning

The Macmillan Dictionary for Children (©2007) also notes that the two are homographs under the Bass entries. I could list dozens of examples, but I am sure you get the point.

A particularly noteworthy example of this error is found in Megaman 8. In that game, Bass is pronounced like the name of the fish, despite a musical naming theme suggesting that his name was intended to be the tonal definition, rather than the fishy one. In the original japanese the character's name, which is Forte, is a musical reference and other important robots in the Megaman series follow suit, including Rock (Megaman's japanese name), his sister Roll (referring to the Rock and Roll genre of music), his brother Blues, a bird named Beat and most persuasively, Bass's own robotic pet Treble. This results in many arguments and puns being made among Megaman enthusiasts regarding the character's name.

The Lexicographer Responsible for the Pronunciation Entries probably made a mistake.

In consideration of the similarity between spellings, it seems probable to me that the lexicographer responsible for the pronunciations erroneously copied the pronunciation from its tonal sense to the aquatic sea life, either because he did not realize the two pronunciations were different, or because he did not pay close enough attention to which entry he was using as a source for the pronunciation.

Also consider that many of the characters in pronunciation keys are hard to type, since they are relatively rare characters, which do not have corresponding keys on the keyboard. It seems to me as if a relatively simple way to work around this would be to simply copy and paste pronunciations from other relevant entries, but this method is prone to error if you are inattentive or ignorant of a difference.

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