[e] and [ε] are pronounced almost the same in English. But there is obvious difference between them in french , french [e] sounds like ‘ay’ in english ‘bay’, really close to the first English letter “A”—-[ei]. Why french [e] and english [e] are pronounced differently? Dont western languages share the same International Phonetic Alphabet ?? Or they share the same IPA but their pronounciation are different?

2 Answers 2


I'm a bit confused by these questions. [e] and [ε] are not pronounced almost the same in English.

hate /heɪt/ bet /bɛt/

It seems like you're referring to letters, not sounds. When you use brackets [], it's is supposed to be referring to sounds, not letters, so if the phonetic transcription is accurate, there shouldn't ideally be much difference between [e] in different languages. That's the whole purpose of IPS is to talk about sounds no what letters represent different sounds.

I may be misunderstanding your question, however. If you have the experience of french linguists using [e] and anglophone linguists using [e] and they ACTUALLY sound different, then I imagine this is either an error, or the result of some kind of academic siloing. It's quite hard to capture all sounds with symbols, and sometimes a language's sound is not quite "exact" for a specific IPA symbol. But they shouldn't be so different as to clearly represent different phonemes, especially one that there is already an IPA symbol for.

  • 1
    I can confirm that French linguists use [ɛ] for the same sound the English produce in bet. When pronunciation differs for the same word in different parts of the world (eg France & Quebec, just as UK & US or Aus. pronunciations might differ), then IPA transcription differs as well. We can listen and look at the word tête as an example.
    – None
    Jul 17, 2016 at 9:33
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    Indeed, it is not obvious that English has [e] at all, since the first vowel vocoid of "hate" is closer to [ɛ] than it is to [e]. French, OTOH, clearly does have [e].
    – user6726
    Jul 17, 2016 at 14:15
  • @user6726 I'm not sure what regional accents you hear most often, but that's not how I hear it. I'm from the US. The issue with English (and probably other languages) though is that our mouth moves a lot during vowels. We have dip, trip and more thongs. The IPA is good at referring to "fixed" non-moving vowels, but not every language works like that. It's like looking a color spectrum and asking is it blue? The answer should be -- well, it's a spectrum, but it has blue in it.
    – pixelearth
    Jul 17, 2016 at 15:00
  • @pixelearth, I suggest getting recordings of pairs like bet/bait and measuring formants 30 msc after release: then compare that to the Jones standard (or, French). I speak US west coast English.
    – user6726
    Jul 17, 2016 at 15:20
  • Lots of people (especially if they're transcribing British English) use /e/ to represent the vowel in English "bet." Jul 17, 2016 at 15:29

IPA is in principle international and universal. However, no phonetic transcription ever reflects all the phonetic niceties of any language. Instead, IPA aims to represent the most salient features of a given language; this is true of phonetic transcription and all the more so of phonological transcription. For example, French “tête” and English “tit” will both be transcribed with twice /t/ (in phonological transcription) and with twice [t] in phonetic transcription, although the sounds are very different in the two languages: French [t] is an unaspirated dental, while English [t] is an aspirated alveolar. But as there is no phonological distinction between dentals and alveolars in either of these languages this difference is generally ignored even in a relatively close phonetic transcription.


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