Skip to Content

Department of Linguistics

PHONETICS AND PHONOLOGY

Phonetic (Narrow) Transcription of Australian English

Robert Mannell and Felicity Cox

Important: If you have not yet either installed the phonetic font "Charis SIL" or tested this installation to determine if the phonetic characters installed properly then click here to go to the phonetic font help pages.

Note:You should also examine the "Transcription Exercises" pages for examples of transcribed speech.

The transcriptions we have been considering so far are phonemic transcriptions, also known as broad transcriptions because they contain the minimum amount of phonetic detail needed in order to be able to distinguish between words. A phonetic transcription contains phonetic detail which can often be predicted by rule. Some of the main "rules" for converting a phonemic to a phonetic transcription are given below. Remember that any phonetic (narrow) transcription must be enclosed in [ ] brackets.

Warning: "Rules" for Phonetic Transcription

You need to understand clearly that the guidelines to phonetic transcription provided below are not really "rules". That is, the uncritical application of these guidelines will not always result in a perfect phonetic transcription. Speakers are at liberty to modify their pronunciations in various ways. Speakers differ from each other in their precise pronunciation and the same speaker may vary the pronunciation of the same word in different contexts. Guidelines for transcription are therefore probabilistic in nature in that they suggest the most likely pronunciations. It is up to you to carefully listen to the actual recordings when doing your transcriptions and to record each speaker's actual pronunciation.

Aspiration and release of oral stops

(i) Aspiration

Voiceless oral stops are aspirated before stressed vowels/diphthongs in the same syllable. Some examples:

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/pæɪ/ [pʰæɪ] pay
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/tiː/ [tʰiː] tea
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/kɐm/ [kʰɐ̃m] come

When /l/, /ɹ/, /w/ or /j/ follow the voiceless stop in the same context as above, they are made voiceless by the aspiration. The following should therefore be transcribed with voiceless approximant consonants (note that there is no need to transcribe the aspiration separately).

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/plæɪ/ [pl̥æɪ] play
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/pɹiːst/ [pɹ̥iːst] priest
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/pjʉː/ [pj̊ʉː] pew (nb: diacritics are placed over characters with descenders)
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/tɹɑe/ [tɹ̥ɑe] try
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/twɑes/ [tw̥ɑes] twice
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/tjʉːn/ [tj̊ʉːn] tune (and more commonly   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [tʃʉːn])
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/kliːn/ [kl̥iːn] clean
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/kɹɑe/ [kɹ̥ɑe] cry
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/kjʉːt/ [kj̊ʉːt] cute

The aspiration rule does not apply when voiceless oral stops follow /s/ (in the same syllable). The following words therefore have unaspirated stops:

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/spɪn/ [spɪn] spin
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/skɐː/ [skɐː] scar
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/stænd/ [stæ̃nd] stand
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/spɹɪŋ/ [spɹɪŋ] spring
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/skwiːk/ [skwiːk] squeak

Aspiration also occurs in secondary stressed syllables
(eg.   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [kʰɐːbənæ̃ɪʃəs], carbonaceous)
and in many unreduced syllables
(eg.   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [pʰɔtʰæʃ], potash).
However in unstressed syllables it is not really appropriate to speak of aspiration because oral stops are only weakly released in these contexts. It is acceptable therefore, to omit the symbol for aspiration in words such as:

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/pətæɪtəʉ/ [pətʰæɪtəʉ] potato
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/kəlekt/ [kəlekt] collect

(ii) Syllable and word-final (VC) oral stops

The comments outlined above, on oral stop aspiration and release, concentrate on initial or CV stops ("CV" means consonant+vowel and indicates that the consonant appears before a vowel within a syllable).

Word and syllable-final oral stops or VC stops ("VC" means vowel+consonant and indicates syllable final consonants) show somewhat different patterns of release to those shown by CV stops. When carrying out a phonetic transcription of VC stops we are particularly interested in whether the release of the stop is audible or inaudible. This applies to both voiced and voiceless stops. Voiceless stops with audible release often have clear aspiration, especially when the stop precedes a pause (eg. this token of   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  "eat" has a clear aspiration). Sometimes the release is less intense but is still audible.

It is customary, when transcribing English to leave audibly released syllable-final and word-final stops unmarked (ie. [p], [b], [t], [d], [k], [ɡ]) and to indicate stops without audible release in the following way (ie. [p̚], [b̚], [t̚], [d̚], [k̚], [ɡ̚]). Strong aspiration, as in the word   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  "eat" can therefore be transcribed as [i:t] but the transcriber has the option of adding an aspiration diacritic when the aspiration in an audible release is deemed strong enough to warrant it (ie. [iːt] or [iːtʰ]).

Here are some examples of pairs of words with and without audible release:-

  released unreleased
"map"   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [mæ̃p]   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [mæ̃p̚]
"squeak"   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [skwiːk]   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [skwiːk̚]
"tired"   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [tʰɑeəd̥]   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [tʰɑeəd̥̚]
  released unreleased
"wink"   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [wɪŋk]   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [wɪŋk̚]
"fade"   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [fæɪd̥]   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [fæɪd̚]
"jog"   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [dʒɔɡ̥]   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  [dʒɔɡ̚]

Important Note: You will notice that we have made no attempt to transcribe either release or aspiration for VC stops in the transcription practice exercises. For the purpose of this course, you are not required to transcribe release or aspiration for VC stops. Only CV stop aspiration must be appropriately indicated in the assignment exercises set for this course.

Devoicing

(i) Devoicing Voiced Oral Stops and Fricatives

Voiced oral stops and voiced fricatives are usually devoiced in the following contexts:

(a) Before a pause (eg. at the end of a sentence or utterance):

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/tæb/ [tʰæb̥] tab
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/mæɪz/ [mæ̃ɪz̥] maze
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/bæɪð/ [bæɪð̥] bathe

(b) Before a voiceless or devoiced obstruent (ie. before oral stops, affricates or fricatives)

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/tæbz/ [tʰæb̥z̥] tabs ( /b/ is devoiced before a devoiced /z/ )
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/sed kɐːl/ [sed̥ kʰɐːɫ] said Karl ( /d/ is devoiced before /k/ )
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/sed sʉː/ [sed̥ sʉː] said Sue ( /d/ is devoiced before /s/ )

You should also refer back to the notes on devoiced stops and fricatives in the section on phonemic transcription. This includes some notes on relevant morphophonological rules (rules for allocating pronunciations to morphemes).

Devoicing of stops and fricatives is a complex phenomenon. Devoicing occurs on a continuum from only slight devoicing of the very end of a stop or fricative to complete devoicing. Strictly speaking, from a phonetic perspective, complete devoicing of a voiced stop or fricative (eg. /z/ to [s]) actually results in a fully voiceless stop or fricative. Phonologically, this could be said to result in the substitution of a voiced phoneme for a voiceless phoneme. But, because devoicing is very often incomplete (and also because of the morphophonological rules governing the pronunciation of the morphemes {-s} and {-ed}) it is convenient to indicate devoicing with the devoicing diacritic (eg. [z̥]). This implies that the transcriber has detected devoicing, but has not made a judgment on whether the devoicing is complete.

Important note: For the purposes of the transcription exercises in this course, you will be expected to mark devoicing with the devoicing diacritic, and not to use the equivalent voiceless symbol.

(ii) Devoicing Approximants Following Voiceless Fricatives

When approximants immediately follow voiceless fricatives they are often, but not always, devoiced. This process is analogous to the effect of stop aspiration on following approximants. Note that this devoicing doesn't always happen. It usually happens when the fricative and approximant are in the same syllable. It also seems to be more likely to happen when the syllable is stressed. This effect is generally blocked by a syllable boundary between the two sounds.

/fɹend/ [fɹ̥end̥] friend
/swiːt/ [sw̥iːt] sweet
/ʃɹed/ [ʃɹ̥ed̥] shred

Variation in place of articulation of /k/& /ɡ/

(i) Before fronted monophthongs such as /iː/,/ɪ/,/e/,/eː/ and /æ/, diphthongs with fronted first targets such as /æɪ/,/æɔ/ and /ɪə/, as well as the consonant /j/, the velar stop consonants /k/ and /ɡ/ are fronted to a pre-velar (between palatal and velar) or even a palatal place of articulation. The pre-velar forms are indicated by placing a + under (or over) the appropriate symbol, ie. [k̟] and [ɡ̟]. The less common palatals are [c] and [ɟ] respectively.

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/kiːn/ [k̟ʰiːn] (or [ciːn]) keen
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/kjʉːt/ [k̟j̊ʉːt] (or [cj̊ʉːt]) cute
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/ɡiːs/ [ɡ̟iːs] (or [ɟiːs]) geese

(ii) Before back vowels such as /oː/,/ʊ/,/ɔ/,/ɔɪ/, and /ʊə/ the velar stop consonants /k/ and /ɡ/ are realised as post-velar stops. The post-velar forms are indicated by placing a "-" under (or over) the appropriate symbol, ie. [ḵ] and [ɡ̄].

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/koːt/ [ḵʰoːt] caught
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/ɡoːdiː/ [ɡ̄oːdiː] gaudy

Note that if consonants intervene between /k/ or /ɡ/ and the following back vowel, the place of assimilation is blocked. However, if /w/, /j/ or /ɹ/ occur after /k/ or /ɡ/ then they affect the place of articulation of these velar stops, not the vowel.

Clear and Dark realisations of /l/

(i) Before vowels, diphthongs and /j/, /l/ is realised as [l] (clear 'l'). [ɫ] is also usually found at the end of a word even when the following word starts with a vowel. This articulation clearly marks the /l/ as belonging to the end of the first word rather than the beginning of the second word. The following words should be transcribed as follows:

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/liːf/ [liːf] leaf
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/loː/ [loː] law
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/blɪŋk/ [blɪŋk] blink
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/fiːlɪŋ/ [fiːlɪŋ] feeling
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/selæɔt/ [selæɔt] sellout

(ii) Before consonants (except /j/) or a pause (eg. the end of a sentence or utterance), the allophone is dark (velarised), ie. [ɫ], (this is an "l" with a "~" through it ):

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/fiːl/ [fiːɫ] feel
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/fiːld/ [fiːɫd̥] field
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/fiːl fɑen/ [fiːɫ fɑ̃en] feel fine

(iii) Syllabic realisations of /l/ are usually dark:

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/tæɪbəl/ [tʰæɪbəɫ̩] table
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/mɐdəl/ [mɐ̃dəɫ̩] muddle

(iv) Note however, that the choice of clear or dark /l/ is often dialect specific. For example, many Australians do use dark /l/ before /j/ in words like "value" /væljʉː/ and "million" /mɪljən/ and also before morpheme boundaries like "control-able" or "fol-ate". Some even use it in words like "slowly" and it is almost obligatory in "holy".

Assimilation of alveolars

The following assimilations should be noted. Alveolar assimilation is extremely common, but exceptions to these rules do occur, even in casual connected speech. Assimilations are much less likely to occur in careful speech and particularly when articulating isolated words carefully.

(i) nasals before labiodentals

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/ɪnfənt/ [ɪɱfənt] infant
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/ɪnvɑet/ [ɪɱvɑet] invite

(ii) Dental nasal and oral stops before dentals

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/æɪtθ/ [æɪt̪θ] eighth
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/tenθ/ [tʰen̪θ] tenth

(iii) Post-alveolar oral and nasal stops before /ɹ/

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/tɹɑe/ [ṯɹ̥ɑe] try
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/dɹɑe/ [ḏɹɑe] dry
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/ənɹəʉl/ [əṉɹɔoɫ] enrol     see Allophones of /əʉ/ below

Allophones of /j/

Other than the voiceless realisation of /j/, it is not necessary to mark any special allophones of /j/. However, /h/ and /j/ often coalesce to form a voiceless palatal fricative [ç] before /ʉː/ eg:

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/hjʉːdʒ/ [çʉːdʒ] huge

Syllabic consonants

All syllabic consonants must be marked with a [x̩] diacritic in a phonetic transcription.

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/mɪdəl/ [mɪdɫ̩] middle
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/sɐdən/ [sɐdn̩] sudden

Syllabic consonants occur frequently in some contexts and less frequently in others. Whilst in certain contexts syllabic consonants occur with very high frequency, it is not obligatory for this to happen. The frequency of use of syllabic consonants is speaker-dependent.

(i) Syllabic /n/ and /l/

Syllabic /n/ and /l/ occur, with very high frequency, after alveolar consonants at the end of words. The words below have /ə/in their phonemic transcription but in these examples the /n/ and /l/ are syllabic so in the phonetic transcription the schwa is deleted and a syllabic diacritic is placed below the final consonant.

/tn/
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/bɐtən/ [bɐtn̩] button
/dn/
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/sædən/ [sædn̩] sadden
/zn/
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/dɐzən/ [dɐzn̩] dozen
/tl/
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/kætəl/ [kʰætɫ̩] catt̩le
/dl/
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/mɪdəl/ [mɪ̃dɫ̩] middle
/sl/
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/kɐːsəl/ [kʰɐːsɫ̩] castle
/zl/
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/mɐzəl/ [mɐ̃zɫ̩] muzzle
/nl/
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/fɑenəl/ [fɑ̃enɫ̩] final

(ii) Syllabic /m/

All four following tokens have a /ə/ preceding /m/ in the phonemic transcription. In the phonetic transcription it can be seen that when schwa is absent in the actual pronunciation of the last syllable we have a syllabic [m̩]:

  Sound image. Click here to play sound.  /æɫbəm/ [æɫbəm] or   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  /æɫbəm/ [æɫbm̩] album

  Sound image. Click here to play sound.  /fæðəm/ [fæðəm] or   Sound image. Click here to play sound.  /fæðəm/ [fæðm̩] fathom

Nasalisation

Nasalisation is particularly likely to occur when a low vowel such as /æ/, /ɐː/, /ɐ/ or /ɔ/ occurs next to a nasal consonant. Nasalisation can occur for any vowel adjacent to a nasal consonant but it tends to be stronger and more audible for low vowels. Note that if a diphthong has a low target (eg. both targets of /æɔ/ or the first target of /ɑe/) then that target will also tend to be nasalised next to a nasal consonant.

Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/ænt/ [æ̃nt] ant
Sound image. Click here to play sound.
/mɐːtən/ [mɐ̃ːtən] Martin
  /mɑet/ [mɑ̃et] might

Important note: You will be penalised if you omit the nasalisation diacritic for any of the vowels listed above, when they are immediately adjacent to a nasal stop (ie. without an intervening pause). You may add nasalisation diacritics to the other vowels in this context, but you will not be penalised if you omit them.

The Phonetic Transcription of General Australian English vowels

In the module of this course entitled "Impressionistic Phonetic Studies of Australian English", the pronunciation of Australian English (AE) vowels is discussed. From that discussion, it should be clear that AE pronunciation of vowels is quite uniform from speaker to speaker except for the pronunciation of a small sub-set of vowels. Speakers of AE have sometimes been divided into three categories, "Broad", "General" and "Cultivated". The pronunciation of six vowels is particularly important for the determination of a speaker's membership of one of these sub-dialect categories. Those vowels are /iː/, /ʉː/, /æɪ/, /əʉ/, /ɑe/, /æɔ/. The system of phonemic transcription of Australian vowels, developed by Clark (1988) and Harrington, Cox and Evans (1997) is based on the pronunciation of the vowels of AE by the statistically "average" speaker of "General" AE. These phonemic symbols will very often be close to the actual pronunciation of a speaker of General AE and so could be also used (with caution) for the phonetic transcription of the vowels of such speakers. These symbols are not, however, adequate for the phonetic transcription of some vowels of many speakers at the two extreme ends of the AE, that is "Broad" and "Cultivated" AE. We should also expect a greater degree of deviation in vowel pronunciation from our chosen phonemic symbols when dealing with "minority" Englishes in Australia (eg. some indigenous or migrant forms). Most certainly, these AE phonemic symbols would be very poor choices indeed for the phonetic transcription of other national Englishes (eg. British, American, Singaporean, etc.). An examination of the American English vowel symbols used in references on American English phonetics will quickly confuse novice students of phonetics unless they realise that different vowel transcription systems are appropriate for different dialects of English.

The student is referred to the topic "Phonemic (Broad) Transcription of Australian English" which outlines the system of phonemic transcription of Australian English. The two speakers recorded for the present, and related, documents are both speakers of General Australian English and most of the time the phonemic vowel symbols will be adequate for the phonetic transcription of their speech but there will be deviations from that pattern and students are encouraged to bear in mind the pronunciations of the cardinal vowels dealt with in the tutorial module on ear training.

Allophones of /əʉ/

A common deviation of vowel pronunciation from the pronunciation implied by the phonemic transcription symbols occurs when /əʉ/ is followed by a "dark" /l/ ([ɫ]). In this case, the vowel has a distinctive allophone sounds something like [ɔo]. In most other contexts it is likely to sound more like [əʉ]. (see, for example, Transcription Practice Exercise 1, token 4, "role")

Allophones of /eə/

Another variation in vowel pronunciation can occur for the vowel phoneme /eː/ which can, for some speakers, sometimes be realised as [eə] but which is more often realised as [eː] before an inserted post-vocalic /ɹ/. (TPE = "Transcription Practice Exercise")

eg. /keː/ = [kʰeə] or [kʰeː] (see TPE 4:35 and 1:15 for [eə] and TPE 1:48 for [eː])

but /keːɹɪŋ/ = [kʰeːɹɪŋ] (see TPE 2:3)

Student Guide to the Phonetic Transcription of Australian Vowels

For this course, students should simply use the Harrington, Cox and Evans vowel symbols utilised for the phonemes, but should additionally be very careful to distinguish the allophones for the two vowels listed above and to also carefully indicate vowel nasality. Differences between Broad, General and Cultivated Australian English can be disregarded for the purpose of these exercises.

Exercise:

The north wind and the sun were disputing which was the stronger,
when a traveller came along wrapped in a warm cloak.
They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveller take his cloak off
should be considered stronger than the other.
Then the north wind blew as hard as he could
but the more he blew, the more closely did the traveller fold his cloak around him.
And at last the north wind gave up the attempt.
Then the sun shone out warmly and immediately the traveller took off his cloak.
And so the north wind was obliged to confess that the sun was the stronger of the two.

The solutions for this passage can be found in the textbook, Cox, F. (2012) Australian English: Pronunciation and Transcription, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne. Phonemic transcription solutions for this passage are found on p209 and the phonetic solution for this passage is found on p229.