Transcription exercises

1. What would a native speaker say?

An important part of phonetics and phonology is the ability to predict the way in which a standard native speaker would pronounce a given sentence, at various levels of detail.

Of course, there is never a single correct answer, especially in terms of intonation, stressing and weak forms, or linking. However, we can make predictions which are plausible for standard British English.

The first exercise

Open this paragraph. We will illustrate more kinds of transcription on this example.

First, transcribe only the phonemes – the results are here.

In the winter semester of English Phonetics and Phonology, you will learn about the segmental aspects of English – how individual sounds change in different contexts. In other words, you will be transcribing allophones. Add allophones related to the fortis-lenis distinction, to major articulatory shifts and to releasing of stop (plosive) sounds. The results are shown here.

Allophonic transcription may be even more detailed, including also coarticulatory changes: nasalization, labialization, velar fronting. However, we do not require these in the winter semester transcription analysis.

In the summer semester, you will be transcribing in connected speech.
This means 1) linking, 2) using stress groups (feet) as units, not words, and 3) marking prosodic phrases. Also include connected speech phenomena like  weak forms, elisions or assimilations.
Check our suggested results.
Please note that there are more prosodic renditions possible – that is, your phrasing, stresses and linking may differ from our suggestion. We encourage you to try our version, but also various other possibilities when it comes to phrase boundaries, stressing and linking.

You can also transcribe intonation, using marks for the individual nuclear pitch movements. This is our suggestion. Try to read the paragraph aloud, using this intonation; again, other renditions are possible, of course.

Similar exercises

British or American?

You can try to compare the British and American standards – referred to as Standard British English (SBE) / Standard Southern British English (SSBE) / General British (GB) and General American (GenAm), respectively. Transcribe two versions (SBE and GenAm) of this text in phonemes. You can look at the results in phonemic transcription and in connected speech.

2. Can you hear it?

It would not be phonetics without careful auditory analysis of natural English speech.

Save the zipped sound file and transcribe what you hear in allophonic transcription. First of all, transcribe only the phonemes, and then start with the allophones.
It is always better to focus on one allophone or a group of allophones. Don’t try to “catch” all the details for one word. You may start, for example, with fortis-lenis allophones (aspiration, then devoicing, and pre-fortis shortening).

You can complete some of the allophones – like devoicing or pre-fortis shortening – without actually listening for them.

Here you will find the results.

You can try two more exercises of the same type, with the sound and the results both in zip folders: first and second.

And another two exercises, slightly longer and more difficult: third and fourth.

3. Synthesis

In this exercise you can combine prediction for a given text with the actual pronunciation.

  • First, open the text and predict an SBE speaker’s pronunciation. You can look at one possible solution.
  • Now you can open the sound and compare the BBC speaker’s pronunciation with what you have predicted. There will, most probably, be some differences, so listen carefully! Then you can check the results.