Phonetics and phonology - Transcribing spoken language

Transcribing sounds

In this activity, you'll be using your knowledge of articulatory phonetics to transcribe spoken language. To do so, you'll be using the phonetic alphabet - a system designed by linguists to represent speech sounds on the page.

We've seen that each different speech sound can be represented by a phoneme. Let's transcribe a word together first. Take the word sing. How many different sounds does this word have? Say it out loud, thinking very carefully about the way that the vocal articulators move to create different sounds. 

You'll have noticed three distinct sounds: 

  1. an unvoiced alveolar fricative consonant, which we can represent using /s/
  2. a short vowel, which we can represent using /ɪ/
  3. a voiced velar nasal consonant, which we can represent using /ŋ/

The three phonemes combine to create:


Note how we only need brackets around the whole string of phonemes, not each individual one.

Now it's your turn!

Remember: think about sounds not spelling. Say the word out loud and reflect on what the vocal articulators are doing during the process of speech production. 

Transcribe the following:

  1. Your full name
  2. Your country of birth
  3. Your age
  4. Your favourite food

Now transcribe the following words

  1. lost
  2. rich
  3. apple
  4. very
  5. watermelon
  6. department
  7. bathtub
  8. buttercup
  9. thistle
  10. groaning

Compare you results with a partner. Are there any differences that you can account for in terms of your accent? Look especially at numbers 7, 8 and 9 here.

Which words are transcribed here?

  1. /brəʊkən/
  2. /lɪŋwɪstɪks/
  3. /lɒŋ/
  4. /drægənz/
  5. /i:meɪl/
  6. /edju:keɪʃən/
  7. /θɪnkɪŋ/
  8. /ɪstæblæʃmənt/
  9. /kəlaɪdəskəʊp/
  10. /ʊnesəseri:/

For each of the following transcriptions, there is at least one mistake in each of them. Can you find them, and provide a correct transcription?

  1. water  /wɔ:tɑ:/
  2. geography  /ʤɒgrəphi:/
  3. seeing /sɪəŋ/
  4. machine /mɪʧi:n/
  5. bottle /bɒttəl/
  6. university /yu:nɪvɑ:rsɪtɪ/
  7. precise /prɪsaɪz/
  8. symbol /sɪmbæl/
  9. moonlight /mu:ŋleɪt/
  10. syllable /sɪllʊbʊl/



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