I'm making a video which includes some information about the ancient Saxon and Norman political organization of the English county of Sussex. One thing I am stuck on is the Old English pronunciation of "Rape", which is the old term for the six political / administrative areas of Sussex. There are six rapes (see Rape (county subdivision)) in Sussex. This has nothing to do with violence, as the etymology of the word is given as having descended from the Old English word for "rope". Let's not argue about that; it seems that this has been more or less settled in linguistics at this point.

It is written "...the derivation of the word from the Old English rāp (rope) has been made practically certain." The text links "rāp" to Wiktionary and this gives the IPA pronunciation as /rɑːp/.

My problem is how is /rɑːp/ supposed to be pronounced? In the IPA pronunciation guides I've looked at online there is no character ɑː listed! Perhaps the ː isn't part of the vowel coding and means something unrelated to the vowel? I don't see this anywhere indicated, perhaps because I don't know where to look.

I'd love an explanation! I'd particularly like to know how to pronounce /rɑːp/. If the OE were supposed to be pronounced the same as the word for sexual violence, the IPA would look like /ɹeɪp/, so THAT'S out, at least.

ETA: Since there seems to be some question on this point, I am NOT asking how the word "rape" is pronounced in connection with the term for the Sussex administrative district. The contemporary pronunciation is the same as the word pertaining to "sexual assault". I am asking how the given IPA code is pronounced. It's irrelevant that this is how it was pronounced in OLD English.


3 Answers 3


Old English had short and long vowels, which were pronounced more or less the same, except the long vowels were longer (in time). In IPA, the /ː/ is a long symbol, which means that the vowel before it is long; so /ɑː/ means the long version of the vowel, while /ɑ/ would mean a shorter version.

For example, hæt, pronounced /xæt/, in Old English had a short vowel, which turned into our modern English hat, with a "short a", and wæt, pronounced /wæːt/ and meaning wet, had a long vowel. The terms "short vowel" (for the vowel in hat) and "long vowel" (for the vowel in hate) derive from the fact that in Early Middle English, these actually were the short and long versions of the same vowel; the vowels have changed since then.

  • That's super-informative, thanks! Sep 5, 2020 at 17:52
  • @Cyberherbalist in other words, it's not part of the vowel coding, but it means something that is related to the vowel.
    – phoog
    Sep 5, 2020 at 18:49
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    There's a whole Wikipedia article on Phonological history of Old English (might be helpful). Sep 5, 2020 at 19:12

It is pronounced as a long a: /ɑː/ and appears in British English in park, hark, and carp. In some forms of American English, the 'r' may be lightly pronounced where it would not be in /rɑːp/.

To hear "carp" spoken in various varieties of English: https://www.wordreference.com/definition/carp

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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore., I think you've got that a little backwards. The IPA represents the sound itself, irrespective of pronunciation drift. If the word in question drifts to a different pronunciation, what changes is the IPA. The IPA for the original pronunciation remains the same, just as the original pronunciation remains the same in the past. Sep 5, 2020 at 17:47
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    @Cyberherbalist No, that's a common misunderstanding, which is why I brought it up. When used in square brackets IPA symbols represent actual phonetic sounds. However, when used in slanty brackets, to give a language particular phonemic transcription, the symbols used do not necessarily represent a sound that is the sme as would be represented by that symbol in the intertnational IPA system. So, for example, the STRUT vowel is normally represented by an upsidedown hat symbol in 'IPA' phonemic transcriptions of English. ... (cont) Sep 5, 2020 at 18:32
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    @Cyberherbalist ... But the typical sound for the STRUT vowel in English is nothing like [ʌ], but is actually almost exactly [ɐ]. Similarly, modern AmE or RP speakers do not have any [r] for /r/, which is a actually a trill, in either AmE or BrE. We have a [ɹ]. Language specific transcription conventions do not strictly adhere to the InternationalPA system. And in fact they usually can't - the symbols for cardinal vowels are idealised points on a scalar system. There is no symbol ... (cont) Sep 5, 2020 at 19:11
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    We pronounce the /r/ in carp "lightly"? I don't even know what that means; the /r/ is an essential feature of the word carp; without it, the word would be cop. Sep 5, 2020 at 19:24
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    @Peter Shor It means that an "r" may (or may not) be heard depending on the speaker. Without an "r" caap" - not 'cop'. Have a listen on the WRF site I linked to.
    – Greybeard
    Sep 5, 2020 at 19:30

The sign that looks like a colon in your question should be two small triangles one above the other. It indicates a long vowel. You can see the character here Triangular colon

Listen to the pronunciation of non-rhotic apart in the following video. This will indicate how to pronounce /a:/ - Note that the speaker is Australian but this doesn't affect that particular vowel much.

Vowel Sounds In English With IPA - The Ultimate Video To Improve Your Pronunciation Of Vowels

It's probably worth reading the rest of the article but here's an excerpt:

English Vowel IPA Examples – Long Single Vowels

Vowel Phonetic Symbol & IPA Examples in Words

/i:/ week /wi:k/, feet /fi:t/, media /ˈmiː.di.jə/ /ɑ:/ hard /ha:/, park /pa:k/, article /ɑː.tɪ.kəl/ /ɔ:/ fork /fɔ:k/, walk /wɔ:k/, August /ɔːˈɡʌst/ /ɜ:/ heard /hɜ:d/, word /wɜ:d/, surface /ˈsɜː.fɪs/ /u:/ boot /bu:t/, group /gru:p/, beautiful /ˈbjuː.tɪ.fəl/

What are English Long Vowels in the IPA? There are 5 IPA symbols for English long vowels. The IPA for English long vowels are: /i:/, /ɑ:/, /ɔ:/, /ɜ:/, /u:/.



If you are English then you will be used to not pronouncing the "r" in "harp" so in that case , /rɑːp/ would rhyme with "harp".

If on the other hand you are from a country where the "r" in "harp" is pronounced, this may not be so useful.

However /rɑːp/ is Old English so the initial "r" would be pronounced quite strongly.

I hope this helps somewhat. Please feel free to ask further questions.

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