Pronunciation Keys in Dictionaries of Place-names

William Kirwin


Place-names are part of the vocabulary of speakers of English as well as an important category of proper nouns in print. Like the rest of the lexicon of English, place-names, spoken or written, have had a long history of change and development. Spellings of most of the general vocabulary
have evolved toward a standardized form, with the letters of the alphabet in ideal cases paralleling the sounds of the spoken form. Nations employing the alphabet often aim toward a phonemic spelling of the word-stock, with one symbol or sequence of symbols representing one phoneme, or distinctive sound, despite the fact that many mismatches or anomalies may have been inherited in traditional spellings frozen in previous centuries. With its Anglo-Saxon and Romance roots and classical borrowings, the English language is especially noteworthy for its numerous exceptions to a
close relationship between the sounds of the words and the letters of the spelled forms. This mismatch is one of the reasons why many dictionaries for schools, offices,and libraries record both the accepted spellings and the
pronunciations of words (Collins 1987,American Heritage 1992, Canadian Oxford 1998).

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