USF 2022

These pages mainly contain information on pronunciations of words in these shows:

All’s Well That Ends Well

King Lear

Sweeney Todd

The Tempest

Some explanation of the transcription style I’m using here:

First, you don’t need to read the phonetics. I will always give you audio to listen to. I’ve included phonetic transcriptions as a convenience for people who might find it useful, but I don’t have an expectation that it will be useful to everyone, nor any judgement for those who don’t read phonetics. In part, the phonetics are an artifact of my own process, and so they may have only an audience of one.

Second, you may be familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet, and still find my phonetic transcription choices idiosyncratic, inscrutable, or otherwise annoying. I hope my idiosyncrasies of transcription are at least amenable to explanation, though, so I’ll give you a few of the guiding principles below

  1. Parsimony – If I can simplify a transcription by leaving out a diacritic, or choosing a single symbol to describe a range of pronunciations, I will. One result of this is that I don’t mess with aspiration or length diacritics. Aspiration and variation in vowel length are absolutely part of English pronunciation, and for that reason, I believe that all English speakers will always use an appropriate pronunciation in the appropriate place, so there’s no reason for me to describe it in this context.

  2. Variability – if I think that a range of pronunciations is possible, I’ll pick a transcription that lies within that range, rather than specifying in a very narrow way what the single correct pronunciation must be. In word with the LOT vowel (see JC Wells Accents of English) I will probably choose [ɑ]. Sure, some people will say [lɑt] and others [lɒt] but there’s no reason for me to insist on one for reasons of correctness. There may be storytelling reasons for me to advocate a particular variant, but I see that as a different task. In a pronunciation list, the job is to answer the question, “How are we pronouncing this word?”

    There’s a second reason I might include two pronunciations: In a play with non-English words, we have to determine how close to the way that word is pronounced in its home language. In those cases, I prefer to give the original language pronunciation and suggest how it might be anglicized. Finding the pronunciation for the character is often a matter of balancing between the two models.

  3. Correctness – When we ask “What is the correct pronunciation?” we may be falling into the trap of assuming that correct answers are absolute, no matter what the context. I prefer to ask “How does this character pronounce the word, and why?” Another way of framing the question might be, “What is this pronunciation good for?” This can help us avoid making ill-advised judgements about the moral value of speech.

  4. Verse – and of course, sometimes Shakespeare seems to have had an opinion about which syllable of a word is stressed, and that opinion doesn’t match current norms. if Shakespeare put the word “exploit” in what seems to be an iambic foot, then I think we should try out exPLOIT. If we can find a way to make that natural and that carries some useful information, then we should keep it. If not… we might have to disagree with Shakespeare. I certainly haven’t included all of these metrical wrinkle pronunciations, but sometimes, that’s the reason the word made the list