Release notes: audio pronunciations in OED Online

By Catherine Sangster, Head of Pronunciations

Audio for British and American pronunciations has been added to OED. The process of creating all the recordings required to provide this has been a major project over the last two years, and I am delighted to see these little blue play icons appearing next to so many of our transcriptions at last.

A typical revised OED entry, for a word that is not obsolete, has one British and one American pronunciation, but many have more than one because our policy is to give significant pronunciation variants as well. Overall, nearly quarter of a million sound files were needed. Fortunately, we did not need to create new recordings for all of these, as Oxford University Press already has a store of high-quality recordings made for other dictionaries. Nevertheless, once duplicates were eliminated from our lists, we were still left with many months’ worth of sound files to create, because OED is so much larger than any of our other titles.

Although it is possible to create sound files from transcriptions by synthesis, we preferred to make more natural-sounding recordings with human speakers. A small number of actor-phoneticians were recruited, and came to our recording facilities in Oxford to read each transcription aloud. Besides having clear voices, suitable accents, and some experience behind the microphone, they needed to be able to read the IPA transcriptions OED uses to represent pronunciations fluently. This was to ensure that the variant pronunciations match perfectly, and was especially important because many of the words are longer or more arcane, not necessarily in most people’s vocabulary.

The addition of audio is not intended to replace the IPA transcriptions, but to offer an enhancement which some users will find more accessible. The process of making the recordings will be an ongoing one, as pronunciations for new and existing entries are being researched and added all the time.

You can read more about the features added to OED this quarter here.