Original description: The word 'phonetics' in ...

Image via Wikipedia is a program that converts written English to “typical” American pronuncations (whatever “typical” might mean).  This might sound like a rather obvious exercise, but as any kindergardner will tell you, English spelling is ridiculous.  Despite all of the (useful) rules kids used to learn about phonics (before whole-word reading became the latest fad in education circles), English spelling is not truly phonetic.  We need only look at words like “guage” and “prerogative” to prove the kindergardners right, but if you’d like a more scientific analysis, you can also check out TrueSpell’s spread sheet of typical spellings for English phonemes

Such issues are important for people who work in a variety of occupational backgrounds.   Those who teach reading skills and those who work in computer programing and artificial intelligence come immediately to mind.  Understanding these complications helps us to understand why it took so long to create a computer like the now-famous Watson, whose designers had to incorporate speech recognition software so that “he” could learn from the other contestant’s wrong answers in each category.


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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