So far, nobody seems to want to keep them.
A proposal has been made by a Wikipedia editor to "deprecate" (i.e. stop using) the symbols /ᵻ, ᵿ/ in the transcription of English in Wikipedia. These are the special non-phonemic symbols invented by Clive Upton for the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation, to stand for "either /ɪ/ or /ə/" and "either /ʊ/ or /ə/" respectively. Wikipedia users are invited to vote on whether they want to keep or drop these symbols here. You can also see the reasons put forward for abandoning the symbols.
So far, nobody seems to want to keep them.
There is a rather strange article in the list of phonetic topics in Wikipedia, with the title Phonetic palindrome. Like many of the more oddball articles in WP it appears to have been written by a single author with little in the way of supporting scientific citations. Wikipedia itself notes “This article needs additional or better citations for verification”. The point of the article is that certain utterances are claimed to sound the same if you hear them spoken normally or hear them reversed. One simple example given is “Mom”. The article warns that there is no guarantee that the pronunciations will sound identical “because certain pronunciations can cause a shift in the articulation of the vowel, differentiating the beginning from the end in its pitch”. We are told “In Finnish almost all palindromes are phonetic - and phonematic written”. Such statements suggest that the writer is not strong on phonetics.
The article contains quite a few examples, though regrettably most are not supported by sound files. In one case there is a reference to some work by John Oswald, who made reversed recordings of William Burroughs in the 1970’s, but if you want to find the recordings you have to look in the WP article on Palindrome in the section headed ‘In speech’. I have listened to the recordings and they just sound like unintelligible mush to me (try these examples). The Palindrome article is a much better piece of work than the Phonetic palindromes one, I think.
There is one overwhelming flaw in the whole article, however, and that is the unquestioning use of the concept of utterances “sounding the same”. Anyone who has experimented with synthetic speech knows that after you have played your bit of sound material to yourself many times, it can be clearly heard as saying what you intended it to sound like, but if you ask someone else to say what they hear, the answer is usually not what you intended. This is a form of auditory illusion. Psychologists have worked on such illusions for a long time. The “Verbal Transformation Effect” is perhaps the best-known: hearing the same thing over and over again often results in successive perception of a whole series of words, some phonetically quite dissimilar (I have been a subject in a VTE experiment, and found the effect quite disorienting). There is a Wikipedia article on Semantic satiation that describes a somewhat similar illusion.
My feeling is that if you equip yourself with some software that can play a sound recording backwards, and you then start listening to any old scrap of speech material played forwards and backwards, pretty soon you will convince yourself that you are hearing something different from what you heard at the outset. And if you are looking for bits of speech that sound the same whether played forward or backwards, you will soon convince yourself that you have found some.
Unless this article can be backed up by scientific evidence, I think it should be taken out, or moved into the Palindrome article with a lot of improvements.
The discussion referred to in my last post has developed further, as you can see here. It is now claimed that there is no proposal to remove IPA transcriptions altogether, but editors want to remove them from the "lede" and put them somewhere else. I have to say that I am still in favour of keeping things as they are.
For a long time Wikipedia has been including IPA transcriptions of words and names in the opening paragraph (see for example 'apoggiatura'), but there is currently a discussion among WP editors about a proposal to remove them as "unnecessary clutter" that is confusing to readers who don't know how to interpret the symbols. You can see the discussion going on here.
In WP, the opening paragraph is very important. It is often referred to as the "lede" (a rather pretentious spelling of "lead"), and its job is to enable the reader to judge if the article is likely to be worth reading. Some editors have suggested that if the transcriptions are retained, they should be removed from the lede and put in an "infobox", a little table usually situated at the top right of a page (see for example 'Henry Sweet').
Not surprisingly, I am strongly opposed to removing the IPA transcriptions, which I find extremely useful. Wikipedia has produced a lot of "help" material to allow users to familiarize themselves with IPA, so these transcriptions aren't inaccessible to the uninitiated (see for example here). The help pages aren't free of faults, but they are easy enough to follow.
If anyone reading this blog knows how to edit Wikipedia pages, I would urge them to add a note to the discussion to oppose the removal of IPA from WP ledes. The discussion is free for anyone to join in.
A blog that discusses problems in Wikipedia's coverage of Phonetics
Emeritus Professor of Phonetics,