French/Appendices/Pronunciation

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IPA pronunciation for Standard French[edit]

The following pronunciation guide using IPA symbols is for Standard French. Also known as International French and Received Pronunciation (RP) French. Although it is considered snobbish by some, it is generally understood by all French speakers.

IPA chart French vowels
Front Central Back
NR R NR R
Close i y u
Close-mid e ø ə o
Open-mid ɛ ɛ̃ œ (œ̃) ɔ ɔ̃
Open a (ɑ) ɑ̃

These tables based upon Wikipedia:French phonology

IPA chart French consonants
Bilabial Labio-
dental
Dental1/
Alveolar
Palato-
alveolar
Palatal Labio-
palatal
Velar Labio-
velar
Uvular
Plosive p b t d k g
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Fricative f   v s   z ʃ   ʒ ʁ
Approximant j ɥ w
Lateral l

Approximate pronunciations[edit]

The approximation column is a hint for beginners. In some cases it is very close, and in others it leaves something to be desired. The best method is to listen to a real French audio sample included in the book, or additional web resources (Forvo, Language Guide). In the approximations you will see that they follow the IPA symbols. For example: [a] and [ɑ] will always be [ah], [ɛ] will always be [eh], [i] will always be [ee], etc. Also there is a superscript [(n)] for a nasal on the syllable. Do not read it to mean an "n" sounding nasal, but rather a symbol to indicate nasalization on the preceding syllable.

A note to beginners, is that there are many dialects of French language. Northern, or Parisian French will sound most like the examples, while Canadian and Southern French may be unrecognizable. The web site Forvo has many examples of non-IPA sounding French words, and when you see where they live you should become aware why they pronounce it different. An example would be Mississippi English compared to Bronx English. The web site Language Guide has many examples of perfect Northern/Parisian French.

The student should be cautious of French songs also. Many French singers will change the pronunciation to perform a rhyme. Main (hand) may sound wrong, but the singer is rhyming it with Américain, and thus may leave off the nasal emphasis.

The French "ill" (IPA 'j') is a difficult pronunciation. Fille, Marseille, Mireille, Guillotine, etc., are sometimes exaggerated with a "yuh" sound by teachers. By describing it as "Fee-yuh, Mahr-seh-yuh, Mee-reh-yuh, or Gee-yuhoh-teen" puts too much emphasis on the "yuh." The best way to describe it, is to let the "uh" roll-off your breathe as a nasal.

An excellent external resource is Official IPA and French Pronunciation.

Consonants[edit]

Example words
IPA Example Approximation
/m/ [mjɛl] miel myehl
/n/ [nu] nous noo
/ɲ/ [aɲo] agneau ah-gnoh
/ŋ/ [paʁkiŋ] parking pahr-keeng
/p/ [po] peau poh
/b/ [bo] beau boh
/t/ [tu] tout too
/d/ [du] doux doo
/k/ [kø] queue kew
/ɡ/ [ɡɛ̃] gain ga(n)
/f/ [fu] fou foo
/v/ [vu] vous voo
/s/ [su] sous soo
/z/ [zɛ̃] zain za(n)
/ʃ/ [ʃu] chou shoo
/ʒ/ [ʒu] joue zhoo
/l/ [lu] loup loo
/ʁ/ [ʁu] roue roo

Mid vowels[edit]

Example words
IPA Example Approximation
Oral vowels
/i/ [si] si see
/e/ [se] ses say
/ɛ/ [sɛ] sait seh
/ɛː/ [fɛːt] fête feht
/ə/ [sə] ce suh
/œ/ [sœʁ] sœur suhr
/ø/ [sø] ceux sew (like dew)
/y/ [sy] su sew (rounded lips)
/u/ [su] sous soo
/o/ [so] sot soh
/ɔ/ [sɔːʁ] sort sohr
/a/ [sa] sa sah
/ɑ/ [pɑːt] pâte paht
Nasal vowels
/ɑ̃/ [sɑ̃] sans sah(n) (like ball nasalized)
/ɔ̃/ [sɔ̃] son soh(n)
/œ̃/ [bʁœ̃] brun bruh(n)
/ɛ̃/ [bʁɛ̃] brin bra(n) (like than nasalized)

Semi-vowels[edit]

Example words
semi-vowel Example
IPA Orthography Approximations
semi-vowels
/j/ [nje] nier
/j/ [fi.j] fille fee-yuh
/w/ [lwe] louer
/ɥ/ [tɥe] tuer oo (rounded lips)