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For example, here's the IPA transcriptions for the word "privacy": /ˈprɪvəsi,ˈprʌɪvəsi/

I want to pronounce "privacy" in a general american accent, like /ˈprʌɪvəsi/

if I say it like pri-vah-see (not pri-vuh-see, but more like pri-veh-see) and only if I say it fast enough, and put the stress in the right place, the "vah" (pronounced as "vah"/"veh") part sounds like a "və", like in the transcription.

My question is whether I'm supposed to be achieve the sound in the transcription above by pronouncing it like how I am pronouncing it (almost as it is spelt: pri-va-cy, since the spelling sometimes at least hints to how one would pronounce a word) or do I need to change the way I pronounce the "ah" in "vah" generally, as in alter the sound I make to pronounce it as pri-vuh-see by not achieving the sound in the transcription by saying it fast enough and making it sound like that, but rather making the schwa sound intentionally myself, not as a result of speaking in a certain way but enunciating the sound with intention to specifically enunciate it.

Whatever way it is, I intend to pronounce all words like that - either pronouncing every word how its transcription makes it sound like, specifically enunciating every speech sound enumerated seriatim, or taking hints from the spelling and making it sound like the transcription when I pronounce it (e.g pronouncing catapult as /ˈkatapʌlt/ can sound like /ˈkatəpʌlt/). If I'm correct it should be the second, so not knowing how every word sounds like before pronouncing it is possible.

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    Pronounce all words like it says in the IPA. That's what IPA is for. The only time you'd pronounce the "a" in privacy like "vah" is if you're saying the word exaggeratedly slow.
    – gotube
    Oct 30, 2022 at 17:13

2 Answers 2

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There is no doubt that the word "privacy" when pronounced by a native speaker at normal speed has a schwa in the second syllable. If you pronounce with "ah", eh", or (as you will probably do) if you pronounce with the vowel sound in your language that is closest to the American "ah/eh", you will sound odd.

However, you will be understood. The "ah" would be heard if a native speaker was speaking in an exaggerated slow way:

I have one requirement: PRI--VA--CY. I don't care about anything else.

Minimal pairs of words in which one form uses "ah" or "eh" and the other uses a schwa are scarce. The only good example I can find is "malaise/Malays" (in some dialects), which are pronounced /maˈleɪz/ and /məˈleɪz/ but these words are unlikely to get confused!

So, if pronouncing a word using the spelling helps you achieve the "correct" pronunciation - then go for it. Even if it helps you to be understood and gives you the confidence to use words without checking the dictionary - go for it!

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  • Thing is I grew up learning English and another language (spoken in a country I wasn't raised in - though I wasn't raised in a predominantly English speaking country) almost simultaneously, and while I can only fluently and comfortably converse in English (that is, without a limited range of vocabulary at least) and not even be able to talk like a native in my "native" language, at times I instinctively pronounce speech sounds from the other language that are close enough but just not the same which messes up the rest of my accent. This was just some additional context. Thanks for your reply. Oct 30, 2022 at 23:53
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No, you don't have to adjust the pronunciation to match the letters, not in general, and not with "privacy". Sometimes I say the "və" while thinking "vih". Like @JamesK said, you can use whatever mnemonics work for you.

To give another example, there is nothing more "oh"-sounding in the vowel sound in "shove" than the one in in "but". It doesn't change the pronunciation that one is written with "o" and the other "u".

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