I’ve been very flattered by the review of my piece on the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation in languagehat. It’s started a lot of reaction as well, several points being raised about other things I’ve mentioned. I’ll take them up one at a time.

First, in my piece on the Dictionary, I used the same “phonetic” transcription as the editors, including the -uu- for the vowel of “wood”. This is not the “standard” BBC Modified Spelling for the sound, as anyone who’s seen the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names will know. The original system was refined over many years, and first devised by Arthur Lloyd James in the late 1920s, when he was a lecturer in phonetics at UCL and secretary to the BBC’s Advisory Committee on Spoken English. While not in any way equivalent to IPA, the Modified Spelling (MS) serves its purposes admirably: its intention is to allow an English speaker to pronounce anything written in the MS in such a way that it is immediately recognisable, but not pretentious. I think that the MS symbol for the “wood” vowel, which was double O with a short mark above it, was far preferable to -uu- which looks very much like a long vowel. A single -u- is not satisfactory either, as it looks to the non-initiate like the vowel of “bud”, which would also be wrong. Lloyd James had obviously thought this through, but the OUP editors, who I believe insisted on the change for the latest guide, have not.

So, later, when I commented on the pronunciation of P.G.Wodehouse, I used an ordinary re-spelling, to show that the first syllable is pronounced like the word “wood”, and the second like the word “house”.

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