I am trying to understand IPA transcriptions in https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/ when two words are involved. In particular, their rationale for changing some stresses, compared to the stresses in the independent transcriptions, when the words are put together.

For example, roller skate was transcribed as /ˈroʊ.lɚ skeɪt/. There is a space between "ˈroʊ.lɚ" and "skeɪt", and roller and skate were independently transcribed as /ˈroʊ.lɚ/ and /skeɪt/ respectively. This is intuitive to me: first word + space + second word.

rubber band on the other hand, was transcribed as /ˌrʌb.ɚ ˈbænd/. However, rubber and band were independently transcribed as /ˈrʌb.ɚ/ and /bænd/ respectively.

Finally, safety pin was transcribed as /ˈseɪf.ti ˌpɪn/. However, safety and pin were independently transcribed as /ˈseɪf.ti/ and /pɪn/ respectively.

Why the transcriptions are not always first word + space + second word, where first word and second word are the independent transcriptions, such as in the first example? Why the stresses changed in the transcriptions?

  • I'm not sure why you're so pedantically hung up on how they're transcribed in IPA when you can literally hear an American pronounce those terms aloud for you by clicking the speaker icon that appears BEFORE how it's transcribed in IPA, especially since the IPA clearly falls short of fully capturing pronunciation, for if it could, it wouldn't show that Americans (AmE) pronounce "safety pin," "band," and "skate" exactly the same as Brits (BrE) do, which couldn't be further from the truth. Just click the speaker icons and hear for yourself they're not pronounced the same, yet it shows they are. Apr 24, 2021 at 22:45
  • My point is you're focused on how some unknown person at dictionary.cambridge.org tried as best as they could to transcribe the pronunciation of these words using the less than perfect IPA system while overlooking the far better pronunciation source dictionary.cambridge.org provided you immediately before the IPA transcription, a source that actually let's you hear a native speaker say the term aloud. Apr 24, 2021 at 22:54

1 Answer 1


TLDR: The stresses are changed because this is how native English speakers actually pronounce them (except for the case of roller skate, which I suspect is a typo).

If you have a one-syllable word, it usually has primary stress on that syllable (except when it's a function word, in which case it may not), so Cambridge dictionary doesn't bother to put stress in its IPA for skate, pin, and band.

When you put two words together to form a compound noun, the stress can change. If it's treated as a compound noun, it should not have more than one syllable with primary stress. The primary stress will almost always fall on a syllable which has primary stress in one of the two original words, most often the first word, but not always.

For example, in safety pin the stress falls on the first syllable: /ˈseɪf.ti ˌpɪn/. In rubber band, the stress falls on the last syllable: /ˌrʌb.ɚ ˈbænd/. And in journeyman, there is no stress on man: /ˈdʒɝː.ni.mən/. These seem to be precisely parallel situations, so why do they behave that way? I don't know. But I am an American, and this is the way I actually pronounce these three words.

Personally, I would put secondary stress on skate in roller skate. I don't know why Cambridge Dictionary doesn't; the two pronunciations they give (US and UK) actually do. Maybe there's variation among native English speakers, but I think that it's likely to be a typo.

  • Listening to the UK pronunciation, I'm hearing (treating the compound as a single lexeme) the stress fall syllable by syllable from the primary stress. That's how I pronounce the noun. Apr 24, 2021 at 19:58

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