Tag Archives: Pronunciation

Sunday book review: English Pronouncing Dictionary

Everyman’s English Pronouncing Dictionary
Daniel Jones (revised by A.C. Gimson)


The other day Joeri asked me a question: “am I pronouncing ‘either’ properly?” Yes, I said, because he was. He was saying ‘eether’. Then he followed up with a second question: “so it’s not ‘either’ then?” Yes, I said, because it is. He was saying ‘eyether’. He looked confused and I couldn’t explain it to him.

So when I saw an old edition (1977) of Everyman’s English Pronouncing Dictionary at my new favourite second hand English bookshop, I couldn’t resist.

This is the first pronouncing dictionary I’ve ever owned and, I have to say, it makes me feel super clever. Open it up on any page, and you find yourself looking at a bunch of semi-recognizable letters that make absolutely no sense. I took a deep breath, wondering if it was just a bit too complicated for me. But after reading the very interesting and nicely written introduction, I was ready to tackle some of the trickiest words around: moustache was my first stop, controversy my second.

Written in 1917, the first edition of the English Pronouncing Dictionary ‘described the type of pronunciation recorded as “that most usually heard in everyday speech. In the families of Southern English persons whose menfolk have been educated at the great public boarding-schools.”‘ This led to the name Public School Pronunciation (PSP), which was updated to Received Pronunciation (RP) in the 1937 edition.

The editor of the Fourteenth edition notes that society – and pronunciation – has moved on since these terms were created and, with no clear separation between classes, education and accent, PSP is certainly a thing of the past. The RP, the standard pronunciation used by BBC newsreaders at the time the book was written (1979), is applied in the book, with less common pronunciations indicated throughout.

After reading about the history of standard pronunciation and earlier editions of the book, I studied the notation. The characters are all familiar, but many are oddly positioned – an upside-down e here, a strangely wide u there. Even a brief look at the grid of notations equipped me to flick through a few pages and recognize the pronunciation of some recognizable, simple words. And what about either?

According to this 1977 edition of the Dictionary, either is pronounced ‘eyether’ (although not written like this… My keyboard is not equipped to show you how it really looks). A second, perfectly acceptable but less often used pronunciation appears in square brackets: [‘eether’].


Both are correct. And I do use both, depending on how the word sounds within a sentence and how much empasis I want to put on it.

So far, I’ve managed to waste at least 90 minutes flicking through this lovely book and testing my pronunciation against the norm. Endless entertainment, if slightly outdated in its context. I would say this is a great addition to any bookshelf. It’s now sitting neatly next to my OED.


Everyman’s English Pronouncing Dictionary, Fourteenth Edition
Daniel Jones
J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1977