In dictionaries I see two guides for pronunciation. for example, for the word "ambiguity":

[am-bi-gyoo-i-tee] AND /ˌæmbɪˈgyuɪti/

I know the second one is named IPA. My question is, is there a special name for the first one? and is there probably any difference between them?

  • 1
    Well, if there were a book about it, I'm sure "Pronounciation for Dummies" would be an appropriate title ;-) Aug 22, 2012 at 9:03

1 Answer 1


It's called a pronunciation respelling system. Its advantage is that you don't have to learn it, the way you have to learn IPA. Its disadvantage is that it is good only for speakers of the language (or even the dialect) it is intended for.

  • A second advantage is that it tends, however clumsily, to represent pronunciation phonemically rather than phonetically. Aug 22, 2012 at 11:25
  • @StoneyB In my experience, most dictionaries that use IPA still give only broad phonemic transcriptions, not narrow phonetic/phonologic ones. That’s why they write r when they should use ɹ, etc. See here: dictionaries only give the phoneme column, not the phonetics. Right?
    – tchrist
    Aug 22, 2012 at 12:23
  • @tchrist Right. Thank you. I don't recall that distinction being in place in the 60s, when I learned IPA. Aug 22, 2012 at 12:36
  • @StoneyB I didn't learn IPA till the 80s, but it wasn't always clear in dictionaries. You can tell though that Oxford at least uses phonemic transcriptions, now if not earlier. It might be argued that they still actually have something of their own dialect in this, showing that you still have to learn the local dictionary conventions (for example, a shift in denoting secondary stress), but it is infinitely better than the effectively useless "spelling pronunciations" historically prevalent in American dictionaries.
    – tchrist
    Aug 22, 2012 at 13:52
  • Related Wikipedia article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronunciation_respelling_for_English
    – nohat
    Aug 22, 2012 at 18:41

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