I have recently come across this while researching the phonetic spelling for "love", and I have come across a website (the website) that had both traditional and modern IPA spellings (with the modern IPA spelling being lə́v and traditional being lʌv). What's the difference?

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    Transcribing love as /lə́v/ is utterly misleading. The schwa is reasonable enough, but English is not a tonal language, and the acute accent in IPA means ‘high tone’. A high tone is not a phonemic property of the word love, or any other syllable in English. Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 21:15
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    That looks more "this particular website's favorite mangling of IPA due to opinionated views on its flaws" than "modern IPA" (the very website doesn't even define such a thing). The alleged "traditional IPA" is just what current IPA would generally end up for transcribing "love".
    – LjL
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 22:07
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I believe modern IPA on YouGlish is taken completely from Dr. Geoff Lindsey’s transcription methods. You can find explanations of his choices on CUBE dictionary and possibly englishspeechservices.com
    – Graham H.
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 3:44
  • @GrahamH. Geoff Lindsey doesn't transcribe love with a schwa though, giving it as /l ʌ́ v/, because SSBE speakers don't merge the CUT and comMA vowels (if comMA merges at all, it's usually with FOOT). This is likely an American attempting to apply his transcription and botching it because they don't properly understand the correspondences between the lecical sets
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 9:56
  • @GrahamH. I can see that he does use the acute to mark stress, but I can’t find any reason for that decision. I tried looking through his site, but it’s an unnavigable, unstructured mess, and I failed to find anything that actually mentions it at all. Even if it does come from him, I would advise against it. Choosing how to transcribe a phoneme in IPA is a matter of preference; repurposing a tone diacritic to indicate lexical stress is just misuse. It’s like writing /bɒtl̥/ (with the ‘unvoiced’ diacritic) to indicate that the final /l/ is syllabic. Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 10:17

1 Answer 1


The IPA doesn't actually tell you how language sounds are to be transcribed, it tells you what the standard "meaningss" of their symbols are. The letter [ɛ] means "open-mid front unrounded vowel" and [e] means "close-mid front unrounded vowel". The linguist then decides whether a certain word in a language has a "close-mid front unrounded vowel" or a "open-mid front unrounded vowel" – that is a matter of analysis.

Schwa and wedge are in complementary distribution in English, so it is mostly arbitrary to select one vs. the other symbol in a phonemic transcription. For English, there have been certain traditional choices made for various reasons, and lʌv is the traditional choice for this particular context ("that vowel" when stressed). The same goes for the various ways of transcribing other vowel qualities including diphthongs (e vs ɛ; eɪ vs ɛj). I don't know whether anyone has done a systematic study of transcription conventions for English to see whether [eɪ] is definitively the "traditional" transcription of that phoneme. More likely, traditionality is a gradient property and [eɪ] is most traditional, followed by [ei].

The choice of an acute accent for stress is not "modern", it is non-standard.

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    It's worth noting that in most contemporary American English varieties the comMA and CUT vowels are phonetically extremely close, making the phonemic identification of them (given their complementary distribution) pretty appealing. British speakers however have a strong phonetic distinction between the two, with comMA being much closer to FOOT, making the traditional schwa-wedge distinction more reasonable when talking about British varieties (like the link here claims to be)
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 10:00

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