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Could you come up with an explanation why the same adjective "physical" has two IPA renderings of the same pronunciation?

Oxford Learners Dictionary: /ˈfɪzɪkl/ (that is the /ə/ is missed in spelling, but heard):

The rest of English dictionaries: /ˈfi-zi-kəl/

Physical - LDOCE

Is there something particular here, or just a typographical error? P.S. I have checked logical, the same difference in "spelling” of the pronunciation.

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2 Answers 2

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Different dictionaries use different symbols to transcribe the same sound. So you'll see different transcriptions such as:

  • /ˈfɪzɪkəl/
  • /ˈfɪzɪkl/
  • /ˈfɪzɪkl̩/
  • /ˈfɪzɪkəl/
  • /ˈfɪzɪk(ə)l/

The last syllable is unstressed and has an obstruent (/t p k s z/ etc) followed by a sonorant (/l m n/ etc). When an obstruent is followed by a Sonorant in the same unstressed syllable, the sonorant is usually syllabic (i.e. it forms a syllable on its own).

The same thing happens in the last syllable of physical. The /l/ is syllabic and the air is released laterally, so some dictionaries transcribe it /ˈfɪzɪkl/ or /ˈfɪzɪkl̩/. Most people, however, pronounce it with an intervening vowel, so some dictionaries transcribe it with a vowel: /ˈfɪzɪkəl/.

Other examples are:

  • bottle → /ˈbɒtəl/ or /ˈbɒtl̩//
  • button → /ˈbʌtn̩/ or /ˈbʌtən/
  • prism →/ˈprɪzəm/ or /ˈprɪzm̩/
  • -ism → /-ɪzəm/ or /-ɪzm̩/

(In the last three words, the air is released nasally.)

Both the transcriptions are correct. Also note that dictionaries are often inconsistent with their use of IPA.

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Both pronunciations are correct. ˈfi-zi-kəl' is used when speaking slowly. In normal pace, it is usually ˈfi-zi-kl'. There are no errors.

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  • Its not because of the speed of speech .... I can pronounce it either way regardless of the speed of my speech
    – Void
    Feb 13, 2021 at 7:07

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