English Pronunciation Guides

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If you're new to LibriVox, you might be worried about pronouncing the words in your recording correctly. Even if you're not new, you might have trouble finding the pronunciation of an obscure or foreign word, or you might be wondering how to read out loud things like footnotes. This guide is here to provide a variety of resources for both newcomers and veteran LibriVoxers. This page is long, but you don't need to worry about reading through all of it, because most of it is just here for easy reference.

Contents

First Rule of Thumb: Don't Sweat It!

The first thing to keep in mind, if you're stressed out about pronouncing every word in your recording perfectly, is: don't be! Everybody at LibriVox is a volunteer, working on their free time, so we don't expect perfection. Most of us have had no professional training, and we all slaughter words from time to time. You should enjoy reading for LibriVox, and if laboring over every unfamiliar word interferes with that, then just take it easy. Nobody is going to be upset if you mispronounce some words in your recording, and no one is going to insist that you re-record it. You don't even need to apologize for mispronouncing unfamiliar or foreign words in your file. After all, even a person who speaks 20 different languages fluently still has a lot of new words to learn!

All the same, many of us want to pronounce words approximately close to the standard, whatever that means. The links below are provided to make it quicker and easier to find acceptable pronunciations of the many different unfamiliar words you might run across, and to provide some order to the dizzying number of resources out there. But this page is by no means comprehensive. Unfortunately, there is no single web site that gives a pronunciation of every word in every language. So if you can't find the word you're looking for after trying the stuff below, or if you just decide that it's not worth the effort to do so (which is completely up to you), then you can always follow the sagely advice of one of our LibriVox volunteers, ChipDoc:

"Here's a trick I've used to deal with unfamiliar pronunciations: Say it in whatever way seems best to you, but say it WITH AUTHORITY. If you sound like you know what you're talking about, most folks will believe you. Even if you're dead wrong, most folks who know "the right way" to pronounce a word will pause and consider if possibly YOU are right if you speak the word with easy conviction."

Asking Other LibriVox Volunteers for Help

One of the places you can go for help is the LibriVox community itself. LibriVox volunteers are very friendly, and there are volunteers all over the world, speaking a wide variety of different languages in addition to English. To request help from another volunteer, just go to the "Need Help? Got Advice?" forum. Click on "New Topic" and give your subject line an appropriate title (something like "Help with French pronunciation please"). In your request, make sure you copy and paste the foreign words or sentences into the body of the text. It may take a day or longer for someone who speaks the language to see your post and respond to it.

Usually volunteers respond in one of two ways. Sometimes they'll provide you with a simplified spelling of the word(s) you need to pronounce. So, for example, the word "pronunciation" would be spelled out "pruh-nun-see-AY-shun" (a lot of people find the IPA style confusing: prə-nŭn'sē-ā'shən). Other times they'll record the words themselves, and send you a link to the audio file in the forum. You can then listen to the file, and repeat their pronunciation as best you can when you do your recording, or (if you prefer) you can copy and paste their recording directly into your file. Asking other volunteers is especially convenient for words in languages other than English, but you can, of course, ask for help on any word. In any case, make sure you thank the person who helped you!

Pronunciation Resources for the Majority of English Words

If you run across an English word that you are unsure how to pronounce, it is usually quick and convenient to look it up in an online dictionary. Most of the sites below have free audio pronunciations of lots of English words, so you can easily find the pronunciation of almost any English word. There are a lot of sites like these, but these four should cover 90-95% of the English words you'll run across.

  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online This site is very easy to use and has audio pronunciations for thousands of words. If you use Mozilla Firefox, you can also go to this site and get an add-on that puts a search engine for the Merriam-Webster Dictionary right next to the address bar. It's very convenient!
  • Dictionary.com If you can't find a word at Merriam-Webster, try this site next. It has an large number of uncommon words that can't be found on most other sites. It has no audio pronunciations (without paying), but it still has a simplified pronunciation guide for most words (e.g. "pruh-nun-see-AY-shun").
  • Answers.com This site probably has one of the largest collections of words on the web, because it searches several dictionaries and encyclopedias (including Wikipedia, though it's not very useful for pronunciation). Also, you can type the word you're looking for directly into the address bar (e.g. answers.com/pronunciation). However, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate for the purpose of finding pronunciations.
  • Text-to-speech demo site by AT&T. Enter a word and, based on the language you select, will play a "recording" of that word. In addition to American English, the site provides options for U.K. English, Indian English, Latin American Spanish, German, French, and Canadian French.
  • Howjsay.com. Type or browse a word, and it will play a recording of the word. Mouse over to make it repeat. Site claims to contain 108240 entries, including many names and places.

Pronunciation Resources for Uncommon English Words

There are a large number of words that are too uncommonly used to be included in a general dictionary, but which sometimes show up in the text you are recording. These include, among other things, archaic and obsolete words, technical jargon, and proper nouns. Some of these can nevertheless be found in the English dictionaries listed above. You can find many proper names at Answers.com, for example, or at least names that are similar to what you need to pronounce. For ones you cannot find, consult these sources. (If you have any resources to add to this list, please post a link and a short description)

Archaic and Obsolete English Words

  • A Complete Dictionary of the English Language by Thomas Sheridon This is a dictionary from 1790 scanned for Google Books and in the public domain. To be honest, it's difficult to use, because the pronunciation system isn't always clear. But sometimes, if it's a word that's not commonly used any more, it's the only place you can find it. There's a search function on the right side of the screen.

Biblical Names

  • Bible Words - Phonetic Pronunciation Has phonetic spelling of many names found in the Bible (e.g. "AY-bruh-ham" for "Abraham"), as well as for words related to the study of the Bible and of religion.
  • Dictionary of Bible Proper Names A Bible dictionary scanned for Google Books. Published in 1922, it is public domain in the U.S., but might not be available in other countries. It's somewhat difficult to use, because it spells out pronunciations using something like the IPA (e.g. the pronunciation for "Abraham" is listed as ā'brə-hām'). However, it includes every proper name in the Bible, so it's included here for comprehensiveness. There's a search function on the right side of the screen.

Business and Product Brand Names

There probably aren't many occasions when we'll need to pronounce the names of companies or their products for LibriVox, but they are included just because the information's out there.

  • The ABC Book, A Pronunciation Guide Includes a phonetic pronunciation of lots of product and business names. Everything from Absolut Vodka to Mitsubishi cars to ZZYZZYVA Magazine.
  • YouTube YouTube is occasionally useful for geographical and personal names, but it is really good for product and business names, because you can find a TV commercial for almost everything.

Medical Terms

  • The Student's Medical Dictionary A 700-page medical dictionary by George Milbry Gould, scanned for Google Books. Published in 1896, it is probably public domain everywhere. Its pronunciation guide is not as easy as phonetic spelling, but not too difficult to figure out. Of course, a lot of medical terms have been coined since it was published, but we won't encounter most of them, since most books available for LibriVox will be before or around that time period. There's a search function on the right side of the screen.
  • Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary Includes some 50,000 medical terms. Does not have audio pronunciations, and the pronunciation guide is IPA (e.g. the pronunciation for "tracheotomy" is listed as trā'kē-ŏt'ə-mē).

Musical Terms

  • Pronouncing Dictionary of Music and Musicians This is a dictionary of over 30,000 entries, with musical terms, titles of classical music and names of composers. It's a little bit unwieldy, because there's a separate PDF file for each letter. It usually gives the proper pronunciation in the original language of the composer or piece, rather than an Anglicized version (which may be good or bad). So "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" is listed as VAWLF-gahng ah-mah-DAY-ôôss MO-tsart. To search, click on the binoculars at the top of the PDF file.
  • Elson's Music Dictionary Music dictionary by Louis Charles Elson, scanned for Google Books, with definitions and pronunciations for thousands of music terms, many of French, Italian, or German origin. It was published in 1905, and so is in the public domain in the U.S., but might not be available to all users in other countries. The text uses IPA style pronunciation (e.g. a capella is listed as ä' kə-pĕl'ə). There's a search function on the right side of the screen.

Proper Nouns (Geographical; First and Last Names)

The pronunciation of many proper nouns, such as first names, last names, and names of cities, can be difficult to find and, if they are in a language foreign to you, they can be very difficult to sound out. If the city is large, or if a famous person bears the last name, you can often find a pronunciation for it in one of the standard English dictionaries above. However, you will likely run into many names that are not listed on any of them. You can always use Cepstral or Linguatec, the voice synthesizing programs mentioned below in "Pronunciation Resources for Words in Other Languages," but linguistic research on synthesizing proper names has only recently begun, so the software is not terribly reliable. Fortunately, there are some websites that have lists of the pronunciations of proper nouns. Since there are several of them, they are listed roughly in order of their usefulness and comprehensiveness.

(Note: For first and last names, it is impossible to find the correct pronunciation, unless you consult the person themselves. For example, millions of people pronounce Louis Armstrong's first name "LOO-ee" but he has stated that he prefers "LOO-iss," and he is the ultimate authority. We obviously cannot consult the people whose names we are trying to pronounce since, apart from the impracticality of it, they are all dead (or fictional!). So the most we can do is find an acceptable pronunciation.)

  • Voice of America Pronunciation Guide This is hands down the best site for pronunciation of proper names. It's a huge list, constantly growing, of names of public individuals, prepared for radio announcers. But we at LibriVox can take advantage of it too. It has easy to understand phonetic spellings and audio pronunciations of thousands of names impenetrable to most English speakers, everyone from Oralbai Abdukarimov to Galymzhan Zhakiyanovis. It has names of people of every nationality you can think of, and unlike most online dictionaries, it has both last and first names. If, for instance, you need to pronounce "Leonid" you can type that in "Near Search" and it'll come up with every name that has it in it. Or if you want to know how to pronounce those African names that start with "Mb," type that in "Exact Search" and it'll give you all the names that start with it. Finally, you can browse by nationality, to get a feel for how the various names of a country are pronounced. Highly recommended. Requires Real Player.
  • Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures Another excellent site for proper name pronunciation. It lists over 9,000 names, with fairly easy-to-understand phonetic spellings, although it has no audio pronunciations. It only gives first name pronunciations for people with "unusual" first names. Since it's one big list, you can use Ctrl+F to see if you can find the name you're looking for, or something similar.
  • Columbia Gazetteer of North America This is a pronouncing dictionary for over 50,000 place names in North America. Very extensive, including a large number of obscure geographical names, with easy-to-understand pronunciation (e.g. "Cusihuiriáchici," a town in Mexico of 183 people, is given as koo-see-wee-ree-AH-chee-see).
  • Pronouncing Dictionary of Music and Musicians This is a dictionary of over 30,000 entries, with musical terms, titles of classical music and names of composers. It's useful for proper name pronunciation because it has easy-to-understand phonetic spellings of many non-English names, first and last. It's a little bit unwieldy, because there's a separate PDF file for each letter. Also, it gives the proper pronunciation in the original language, rather than an Anglicized version (which may be good or bad), so that "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" is listed as VAWLF-gahng ah-mah-DAY-ôôss MO-tsart. To search, click on the binoculars at the top of the PDF file.
  • The Pronunciation of 10,000 Proper Names A pronouncing dictionary by Mary Stuart Mackey, scanned for Google Books, with both geographical and biographical names. It was published in 1922, so it's in the public domain in the U.S., but it may not be available in other countries. It uses IPA pronunciation style (e.g. Lucretius is listed as lōō-krē'shəs). There's a search function on the right side of the screen. The book is also available from archive.org in PDF, TXT or DJVU (file sizes much smaller than PDFs; get reader here) formats.
  • A Universal Pronouncing Gazetteer A pronouncing dictionary of place names from all around the world, scanned for Google Books and published in 1847. It's quite extensive, and fairly easy to use. Unfortunately, for some place names whose pronunciation the author considers apparent, the author indicates only the stress, but for many others, he gives an easy-to-understand spelling of the pronunciation (e.g. Mozambique is listed as mo`-zam-beek'). There's a search function on the right side of the screen.
  • Universal Pronouncing Dictionary of Biography and Mythology A 2400 page pronouncing dictionary from the late 19th century, in two volumes. Volume 1 covers A-H; Volume 2 covers I-Z. Has thousands of pronunciations for names throughout world history and mythology, using IPA-style pronunciation (e.g. Aphrodite is listed as āf'rə-dī'tē). However, because the PDF file is so large, it's extremely difficult to browse. Searching takes so long that it's almost useless. Your best bet is to guess about what page the name you're looking for would be on (you might guess that G's are somewhere around page 900, for example), type it in at the bottom, checking the index at the top of that page, and keep guessing until you've found the name. It's very extensive, but it's so difficult to use that you are advised to go to it only when you can't find something on the other sites.
  • Asian Name Pronunciation Guide Provides phonetic spellings and some audio pronunciations for common names of people of Cambodian, Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (Mandarin), Filipino, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese origins. Also includes some basic tips on pronouncing the languages.
  • How to Pronounce the Names in Shakespeare This is a Shakespeare dictionary by Theodora Ursula Irvine scanned for Google Books. It was published in 1919, and so is public domain in the U.S., but it may be unavailable for users in other countries. It has a number of proper names that could be useful even for people not doing a Shakespeare production for LibriVox. It uses IPA pronunciation (e.g. Romeo is listed as rō'mē-ō'). There's a search function on the right side of the screen.
  • Dictionary of Bible Proper Names A Bible dictionary scanned for Google Books. Published in 1922, it is public domain in the U.S., but might not be available in other countries. It's somewhat difficult to use, because it spells out pronunciations using something like the IPA (e.g. the pronunciation for "Abraham" is listed as ā'brə-hām'). However, it includes every proper name in the Bible, so it's included here for comprehensiveness. There's a search function on the right side of the screen.
  • Think Baby Names Extensive database of first names. Provides phonetic spelling of first names, although some names do not have any pronunciation listed.
  • Encyclopedia Mythica Pronunciation Guide Provides easy-to-understand phonetic spelling of mythological figures from all over the world. (e.g. for the Aztec deity Coyolxauhqui it gives the pronunciation as coh-yohl-shau'-kee}
  • Pronouncing Authors' Names Provides phonetic spelling of many different authors' names, usually only the last. (e.g. Chinua Achebe is listed as ah-CHAY-bay).
  • Every-day Pronunciation A pronouncing dictionary by Robert Palfrey Utter, scanned for Google Books. It was published in 1918, so it is in the public domain in the U.S., but it may not be available in other countries. The pronunciation guide is similar to IPA (e.g. "pronunciation" is listed as prə-nŭn'sē-ā'shən), and is sometimes confusing, but it still might be helpful. There's a search function on the right side of the screen.
  • First names List of over 20,000 first names, both English and foreign language.

Shakespearean Terms

  • How to Pronounce the Names in Shakespeare This is a Shakespeare dictionary by Theodora Ursula Irvine scanned for Google Books. It was published in 1919, and so is public domain in the U.S., but it may be unavailable for users in other countries. It is extremely comprehensive, and has pronunciations for apparently every word in any of Shakespeare's plays that could possibly be mispronounced. It uses IPA pronunciation (e.g. Romeo is listed as rō'mē-ō'). There's a search function on the right side of the screen.

Science Terms (Including Species Names)

  • An Illustrated Dictionary of Scientific Terms This science dictionary, scanned for Google Books, was published in 1879, so it is public domain in the U.S. and probably everywhere else. It contains the pronunciation of about 14,000 technical terms used in every field of science, including many chemical compounds and species names. It can be somewhat difficult to use, because it has IPA style pronunciation (e.g. benzene is listed as běn-zēn'), but it is quite extensive. Even if you are unable to find the exact chemical compound or species name, you can often search for different letter combinations to figure out by analogy how a word is pronounced. There's a search function on the right side of the screen.
  • A Key to the Pronunciation of Scientific Names of Popular Species Let's say you're reading a science book for LibriVox, and you run across the name of a species like Acanthoscurria eutylenum - how would you go about pronouncing that? This site provides answers to such questions. It does not pretend to be comprehensive, but it does give general guidelines for pronouncing the names of species, with several easy-to-understand phonetic spellings of common species (for the one above, it'd be "uh-kan-thuh-SKOOR-ee-uh yoo-tuh-LAY-nuhm.") Scientists themselves disagree about the pronunciation of many species, so don't worry too much about saying it "properly."
  • Latin Pronunciation Demystified Excellent PDF article explaining how to pronounce Latin, the language used the most for naming species. Look especially at the alphabet for "Northern Continental Latin," the school of Latin pronunciation generally used in science.

Other Weird Things to Read Aloud

Pronunciation of "LibriVox"

As you can see from this thread, there is no "standard" pronunciation of LibriVox. Some people say lib-RUH-vocks; others say lee-BRUH-vocks; still others say lee-BREE-vocks. Some place the stress on the first syllable instead of the second; others put it on the third. Some say Vox with a short o; others with a long o. There's really no right or wrong way to say it. And as LibriVox volunteer Cori said, "If you can think of a new way, that's still understandable, then you're welcome to use that too."

Footnotes

What do you do if you're reading a nonfiction work, and the author has written footnotes? Should you read them? How do you read them? LibriVox doesn't really have a standard policy on these issues, and leaves it up to the discretion of the reader. But there are a few general guidelines.

If you are participating in a collaborative work, check the forum, and see if the BC has decided on a footnote policy for the book. If it hasn't been brought up already, ask what they want to do with footnotes. Often, they'll let you know if they want all the footnotes to be included, all of them to be omitted, or only source citations to be omitted. Most BCs either omit them altogether, or ask that you omit only those footnotes where the author is just listing the source of his information (e.g. a footnote like "See David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p.264" could be omitted).

If you are a BC, you should let your readers know what you want done with footnotes, preferably somewhere on the front of your forum, so that they follow a consistent policy. If you are going solo, it's your choice. Sometimes footnotes add depth to the author's work; other times they are irrelevant or so numerous as to be distracting. So it's up to you.

The actual reading of a footnote is not too hard. All you do is pause briefly, say something like "Footnote (then read the footnote) End footnote". Pause briefly again and resume the text. The main consideration is where to put the footnote.

There are three basic options: 1) put it exactly where it is in the text, even if it's in the middle of a sentence; 2) put it at the end of the sentence or paragraph; 3) put it at the end of the chapter. It's up to you what you'd prefer to do, but here are some additional considerations:

Reading the footnote exactly where it is in the text might seem like greater fidelity to the author's intentions, but sometimes, if it's in the middle of a sentence, it could interrupt the author's train of thought when read aloud, in a way that it doesn't on the printed page. So it might be better to put it elsewhere, like at the end of the sentence or paragraph. On the other hand, if its exact placement seems important to you, or if it's at the beginning of a long sentence, you can interrupt the sentence, say the footnote, and then return to the beginning of the sentence.

If it's an especially long footnote (sometimes authors write 1 or 2 page footnotes), then you might want to put it off till the end of the sentence or paragraph. If the footnote is an aside, not central to the author's train of thought, then you could even put it at the end of the chapter. It's generally better to do this when the chapters are short and the footnotes long. To refresh your listeners' memories, you could say, "Footnote following the sentence (then read the sentence before the footnote) (then read the footnote) End footnote." Again, it's up to you how you want to read footnotes. The main thing to aim for is clarity for the listener.

Mathematical Equations and Notations

  • Handbook for Spoken Mathematics If you were reading from a scientific or mathematical book, how would you convey in spoken language a complex equation like (x-h)^2 + (y-k)^ - 2/z^3 ^= r ? It's not something you're likely to run into often, but if you do, there's a site that has standardized spoken mathematics for reading to the blind and visually impaired. Though it's a little difficult to navigate, it has comprehensive guides for spoken algebra, trigonometry, geometry, calculus, statistics, and more. (Scroll down past the tan section to the gray).
  • Guidelines for a Test Reader This site is similar to the above, though not nearly so extensive. But it is more attuned to the physical act of reading and the audio cues to the listener. The Mathematics part starts a bit further down the page.

Character Voices and Accents

If you are reading a work of fiction, you may be considering whether you should come up with different voices for each of the characters in your piece.

In short, you don't have to. Most of us here have had no professional voice training, and developing a voice for a character can be harder than you think. Most men, even professional readers, have an especially hard time doing women's and children's voices. Don't worry about your listeners, though: while some readers prefer character voices, others prefer not to have them, and many others don't have a preference one way or the other. Most listeners will just be pleased to be listening to the text at all. In any case, your readers will be able to follow along perfectly well with the story even if you do not have different voices for each of the characters. If you've ever listened to a collaborative work of fiction produced by LibriVox, you'll know that that's true.

Still, you might find it worthwhile and enjoyable to create different voices for your characters. It's probably a good idea to start with a short story with different voice parts. You can also start paying close attention, if you haven't already, to how other LibriVox volunteers, and professional audiobook readers, read different voices. Try to notice how they pick from a range of different reading pitches, speeds, and styles to create distinctive voices for each character.

If you're wanting to learn how to speak English with different world accents (French accent, German accents, etc.), here is a site where you can listen to audio files with a vast collection of world accents: The Speech Accent Archive

There is/was also a good discussion of voice characterizations on the LibriVox forum on this thread.

If you have any useful links or additional thoughts, please feel free to add them to this page!

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