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Wikitravel talk:Pseudo-phoneticization guide

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So, this is a start to doing some kind of guide for making phonetic cues for phrases in phrasebooks. I tried to borrow the best practices from existing phrasebooks. There are lots of sounds that aren't represented in the alphabet (example: glottal stops), and some fine points of pronunciation aren't covered (like tones in tonal languages). However, it's a starting point for better work.

A couple of things I don't like: "igh" for the sound of 'i' in "time", 'ie' in "pie", 'y' in "fry", etc. It's about the only English letter combo I could think of that was unambiguous for that sound (English 'i' can also be ih, English 'ie' can also be ee, English 'y' can also be y, English 'ai' can be ay or eh, and English 'ay' is more usually ay). But combined in our alphabet, it could also look like ihgh, at first glance. Any suggestions for a letter or group of letters in English that would make a better "igh" sound?

Some other things: I've got dh for "th" in "those", and zh for "s" in "treasure", but I'm not sure those are really intuitive at first glance. Other ideas? -- Evan 11:54, 15 Nov 2003 (PST)

Nice work, Evan. There are indeed some difficult cases as you mention above. I can't really come up with an answer right now. I'll give it some thought, though. (I have similar problems for representing Dutch 'eu', 'ui', 'ei' and 'ij' -- any ideas?)
Well, lessee... my Dutch is real old and creaky, but...
  • "ui" → ow (ex: "uien" → OW-ehn)
  • "ei" → igh (ex: "Leiden" → LIGH-dehn or LIGH-duhn)
  • "ij" → igh (ex: "mij" → migh)
Kinda dirty, and probably colored by the fact that I probably don't remember how to pronounce this stuff any more, anywas!. As for "eu", I'm thinking oo, uh, or maybe adding a er item....
For Dutch "ui", I suggest "uy" as in "buy" - it's fairly close, and in Dutch "uy" is pronounced like "ui". -PierreAbbat
All three are wrong (I'm Dutch and speak fluent English). "ui" is indeed more like "uy" in "buy", but still quite different. -- 06:12, 15 June 2008 (EDT)
I added 'ny' for the 'ñ' in Spanish mañana, 'gn' in French agneau, 'nj' in Dutch oranje. Would that represent this sound well enough?
I think that's a great one. Simple, gets across the idea nicely.
Yep; that's correct in all three languages! -- 06:12, 15 June 2008 (EDT)
There's one symbol I don't really agree with: 'ng' representing the nasal 'n' in French vin. I think 'ng' should represent the 'ng' in English king. And AFAIK it's not the 'n' that is nasal in vin, but the 'i'. Same with French un (nasal 'u'), French on (nasal 'o'). I think we should devise a way to represent nasal vowels instead. Maybe a tilde after the vowel, but I'm not sure how clear that would be for an English speaker. Examples: e~ for 'in' in French "vin", o~ for 'on', u~ for 'un', a~ for 'en', i~ for 'im' in Portuguese "jardim", oo~ for Portuguese 'um'.
Well, the main problem I have with that is that it's no longer even close to WYSIWYG (OK, it's not quite anyways, but you get the idea). The "ng" is often used in French phrasebooks for English speakers. It's obviously confusing if the language has the "king" sound as well as the "vin" sound... I'm not sure throwing in extra symbols is all that good.
Just thought of something: would a ' do as a symbol for a glottal stop? DhDh 14:14, 15 Nov 2003 (PST)
Actually, that's a common usage for representing Cockney and other dialects in English ("bottle" becomes "bo'l", or for use "bah-'uhl". Or something. -- Evan 15:25, 15 Nov 2003 (PST)
Thanks for the hints on the Dutch sounds. I spent about half an hour uttering all kinds of sounds and trying to find the best matching symbols for them :-) I hope that I've come up with something sensible (er, ey, ir, uu, yy). Let me know if you have doubts.
Having two sounds for 'ng' or using extra symbols -- the choice is not easy. Let's try the first option; you never know where the second option might lead us.
Do you mean that you agree using a ' for a glottal stop or not?
I've looked it over a bit and I have no real problems with 'igh', 'zh' and 'dh'. To me they are pretty clear. -- DHOOM-dhoom 17:01, 15 Nov 2003 (PST)

Is "ew" good for French "u", German "ü", and Finnish "y"? -PierreAbbat

Well, we added "uu" for I believe just that particular sound. To tell the truth, it's not a combination you see a lot in English, and I don't think I could read out loud "ew", "oo", and "uu" and have you hear a difference. Don't forget that this is a readable English approximation, not an IPA stand-in. Is "oo" really not good enough for "sah-LOO"? Are English speakers going to be badly misunderstood if they say "DUH shahm see-VOO-play"? --EH-vihn 08:47, 4 Dec 2003 (PST)

They might. French is my second language and I have no clue what "DUH shahm" is supposed to mean (I haven't looked at the phrasebook in order not to cheat :-) Secondly, I don't think "ew" is good for Dutch/French "u", German "ü" and Finnish "y". At least not if it's the same sound as in "few" or "dew", in which "ew" is pronounced the same way as "you". This really is quite a different sound. And if Dutch "u"/"uu" would be represented by "oo", I fear I'm not going to understand someone who's talking about a MOOR (muur = wall) or that something is DOOR (duur = expensive). DhDh 11:57, 4 Dec 2003 (PST)

Here are some minimal sets: sur (on) / sire (sire) / soeur (sister) / sieur (sir) / sueur (sweat) ; lui (him) / Louis (Louis) / lu (read) / lit (bed) / loue (rents) ; vu (seen) / vous (you). A Frenchman hearing one of these is likely to be quite confused if you mean another. I cringe when I hear people say "déjà vous". Also the "r" is pronounced in such words as quatre (four), chambre (room), and huitre (oyster), the last of which becomes huit (eight) if you drop it. -PierreAbbat 15:25, 4 Dec 2003 (PST)
OK, OK, OK. DOO shahmr or DIH shahmr.
Here's the way I picture it: we have the big pronunciation section at the beginning, listing out all the letters, and how to pronounce them well. We then have little pronunciation cues for each phrase, which give rough approximations of how to pronounce it. Someone who's familiar with the pronunciation section at the beginning will (ideally) just read the phrase aloud, perfectly. Having the little cue can kinda jar their memory.
We have a few options here: 1) use an exact but abstruse phonetic language like IPA or SAMPA, 2) use sound files (not good for printouts), 3) have pronunciation cues in an English-like syntax that English readers can sound out to give approximations of the real sounds. Also, we can 4) make up our own exact abstruse phonetic language, which has neither the advantage of being sound-out-able by the average English reader, nor the advantage of being standard. Finally, we can 5) just leave out the pronunciation cues.
If I had to rank these options, I'd say 3 > 4 > 5 > 1, and 2 should be a supplement to any of them. If we go with 3), we're just going to have to accept that there are sounds in other languages that we're not going to be able to simulate perfectly. I think it's better to say that queue is KOO rather than making up some weird "k*^%w" or something.
My N cents, where 1 < N < 3. --Evan 16:08, 4 Dec 2003 (PST)

I don't think "er" is right for either Dutch "ui" or French "oe"/"eu". As I learned them, "ui" is a diphthong consisting of ash followed by über, "er" is retroflex, and "eu" is "o" with the tongue forward and not retroflex. How about "uo" for "eu"? -phma

I just added some words to a phrasebook, and the pronunciation of one of them came out as pighngsh (it's the plural of powng). How is the Anglophone going to pronounce that? Also, in the German phrasebook, three colors are transcribed as blow, grow, and brown, which happen to look like English words, but only one of them sounds like the German word (and happens to mean the same). -phma 19:22, 24 Dec 2003 (PST)

w/r/t "pighngsh" -- how about we figure out a better long-i sound than "igh"? I really can't think of one that's unambiguous-looking. Suggestions definitely requested.
w/r/t looks like an English word: I think that's OK. If people can count on always expecting things to pronounce how they look, not like the English words, these things will be relatively unambiguous.
w/r/t the technique in general: you hate it. I am well aware of that. I'm aware that it's your bete noire, but I really don't know what you want to do instead. If you feel like you've proven your point that the current system is unimplementable, what would you like us to do instead? --Evan 13:58, 25 Dec 2003 (PST)

Bête noire, baie noire, baignoire, whatever. :) What about using the letters ö and ü? The sounds are found in a lot of languages, and are written that way in many of them. That would alleviate the confusion trying to pronounce "heureux" (currently ur-RUR, proposed öh-RÖH) or "heure" vs. "eux". -phma 22:05, 25 Dec 2003 (PST)

I tend to agree with that (I take ü as being the ü-sound in German München). The more phrasebooks we are going to have, the more sounds will need to be represented. Using only characters used in English just won't do the job, and will lead to pronunciations that are completely unintelligible in the target language. I agree that travellers cannot be expected to learn the whole set of phonetic characters by heart, but they should at least be understood, shouldn't they? I think a controlled and limited extension would do more good then harm. DhDh 14:54, 26 Dec 2003 (PST)
ö, ü and uy are correct for Dutch. DhDh 16:43, 27 Dec 2003 (PST)
I know that using sounds from English as pronunciation cues is inexact, insufficient, and probably misleading. It's also done in just about every English-language phrasebook I've ever seen.
It's probably about time that we start referring to some other phrasebooks by other publishers to get some ideas about how to do these "hard" sounds. I really don't think using non-English symbols is the right way to go here. --Evan 16:03, 29 Dec 2003 (PST)
The first book I ever saw that attempted to write the sounds of ü and ö in English used "ew" and "uh". That's a Berlitz German book. I have also seen œ used for ö. Then there's the Romanian î sound, which AFAIK is the same as the Russian ы sound. (It's written that way in Moldavian: Тотул с'а ынчепут It all began.) I think I've seen "ih" for that, which is okay as long as the language doesn't have both sounds. I've been ignoring the "r"/"rh"/"rr" distinction in French, since French has only one "r" sound, but in Spanish, which has pero "but" and perro "dog", I wouldn't. -phma 15:44, 30 Dec 2003 (PST)
How about going back to "uu", which is Dutch, and using "eu", which is also Dutch, and listing in the pronunciation guide what symbol is used after explaining how to pronounce it? -phma 19:56, 5 Jan 2004 (EST)

Now that we have a Hindi-Urdu phrasebook, we have more problems. Hindi has "kh" which is not an ach-Laut, but an aspirated "k", "th" which is not an interdental fricative but an aspirated "t", and a series of retroflex consonants. It has both nasal vowels an an "ng" sound (though the latter is pretty rare in Gujarati, I don't know about Hindi). How do we represent these sounds? -phma 23:02, 25 Jan 2004 (EST)

There's now the beginning of a Finnish phrasebook, and there's yet another problem. The sound "ä" is written "a" in our scheme; the sound "a" is written "ah". A syllable can end with "h" (e.g. kahdeksan). How do we transcribe the sounds of "äh" and "ah"? What about "u" and "uu"? -phma 23:58, 16 Feb 2004 (EST)

Not to mention "oh" and "eh". I think the "h before a consonant" sound is very tough for English speakers, but the best transcription might just be adding an "h" (or two). For example "kahvi" → "KAHHH-vee". Also, I think "ew" more correctly approximates the sound of y than "uu", and "er" or "ir" makes way more sense than "eu" for ö. - Nickpest 00:49, 31 Jul 2004 (EDT)

I'm concerned with using OW to transcribe the ow in cow. Normally it works, but with the Finnish word rauha (peace), for example, it transcribes as ROW-hah, which could easily be read by an English speaker as "Row the boat". Maybe use AO instead? - Nickpest 02:21, 31 Jul 2004 (EDT)


igh is the one item in our pronunciation alphabet that sticks out in the above discussion as being dissatisfying, and I agree. pighngsh is not a useful pseudo-phoneticization for Portuguese pães—it's just a really confusing looking heap of consonants (unless you've spent time looking over this policy article). When I see igh in a foreign language pronunciation context, there is ambiguity as to whether the g is pronounced, either as a hard g or a voiced fricative. (And lo and behold, we use it for that in this guide when used as gh, like 'g' in Dutch "geen")!

Is there another combination that is completely unambiguous? Not really, but the problem is that igh isn't unambiguous either, in the context of a foreign language. IMO the better option is ie, which I think is the one most often used in phrasebooks for this sound, and almost always conveys the ie as in pie sound in English.

To further minimize confusion, we would just need to make it clear that ie = ie as in pie in the alphabet section:

ai, ay 
like ie as in pie

Anyway, I think piengsh > pighngsh. Should we change this? --Peter Talk 15:12, 11 March 2010 (EST)