1

I'm particularly interested in the British pronunciation. Take the following two words as an example:

  1. Context (ntɛkst)
  2. Control (nˈtrəʊl)

The first one's pronunciation starts as whereas the second one is pronounced with the sound. Is there a way to infer the pronunciation of such words starting with "co"?

As a non-native speaker, I get lost most of the time when I come across such words. To make matters worse, I came across the word "content" which is pronounced both ways depending on its usage as a noun or as an adjective.

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    Notice that the schwa (ə) is always in an unstressed syllable. – Spencer May 2 at 19:12
  • Look at the stressed syllables. /'kɒntɛkst/ is stressed on first syllable so the vowel is pronounced as /ɒ/ while /kənˈtrəʊl/ is stressed on last syllable and the vowel is a part of weak syllable so it becomes schwa. – Decapitated Soul May 2 at 19:14
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    You can't tell which syllables are stressed by just looking at the spelling; English spelling doesn't do that. – Peter Shor May 2 at 19:27
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    When you search a word in a dictionary, it gives you the IPA transcription of the word (/kənˈtrəʊl/). You'll notice that there's a diacritic mark in the transcription, the syllable following that mark is stressed. /trəʊl/ follows the diacritic mark in /kənˈtrəʊl/, so it's stressed. – Decapitated Soul May 2 at 19:28
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    For words where the stress varies, like content and construct, the noun is accented on the first syllable and the verb or adjective is accented on the second syllable. And generally, for two-syllable words, nouns tend to be accented on the first syllable and verbs on the second syllable (although there are lots and lots of exceptions). – Peter Shor May 3 at 13:09
3
  1. Context (kɒntɛkst)
  2. Control (kənˈtrəʊl)

The first one's pronunciation starts as kɒ whereas the second one is pronounced with the kə sound. Is there a way to infer the pronunciation of such words starting with "co"?

What factor decides the pronounce of words starting with “co” to be kə or kɒ?

That factor is stress or accent.

Context: There are two syllables in 'context'. The first syllable is stressed while the second one is not. When 'con' is stressed, it is usually pronounced as /kɒn/. In 'context', 'con' is stressed so it's pronounced as /kɒn/.

Control: There are two syllables in 'control'. The first syllable is unstressed while the second one is stressed. 'Con' is unstressed and it's pronounced as /kən/ so 'control' becomes /kənˈtrəʊl/.

/ə/ is called schwa, it (always) occurs in unstressed syllables. The vowel in unstressed syllables often reduces to schwa while the vowel in stressed syllable does not often reduce.

Details about schwa are available here

Well, how can I tell which syllables are stressed and which are not by just looking at spelling?

Peter Shor says in their comment:

You can't tell which syllables are stressed by just looking at the spelling; English spelling doesn't do that.


Dictionaries often have phonetic transcription of words.

Examples:

  • control -> /kənˈtrəʊl/.
  • context -> /'kɒntɛkst/
  • convert -> /kənˈvɜːt/
  • contrast -> /'kɒn.trɑːst/

You'll notice that there's a diacritic mark (') in the transcription, the syllable following that mark is stressed/ accented.


Read Peter Shor's comment:

For words where the stress varies, like content and construct, the noun is accented on the first syllable and the verb or adjective is accented on the second syllable. And generally, for two-syllable words, nouns tend to be accented on the first syllable and verbs on the second syllable (although there are lots and lots of exceptions).


Note: this is not a 'rule'.

(You might want to read Stress and Vowel Reduction — Wikipedia)

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