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Hi all, I'm confused about the IPA symbols used for words such as "train", because the "t" sound in this word is distinctly different from something like "talk", for example. However, looking it up in dictionaries, one can plainly see that the word "train" is expressed as "/treɪn/", while the word "talk" is expressed as "/tɔːk/" - same t symbol, but to me, very different sounds. The word "train" sounds to me like "chain" with an r in it. However, "chain" is expressed in IPA as "/tʃeɪn/"... so shouldn't "train" be "/tʃreɪn/"? Thanks for your help in advance.
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I agree with you.

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anonymousI'm confused about the IPA symbols used for words such as "train", because the "t" sound in this word is distinctly different from something like "talk", for example.

Yes, but that's somewhat regional, and the IPA transcriptions you see in dictionaries are geared toward showing the phonemes regardless of how they are realized in speech in various regions. Any phonetic phenomena that are generalized, such as the variations in the sound of the /t/ in various phonetic environments, are cancelled out in the dictionary transcriptions, which are not what we would call "narrow transcriptions". So when they have /treɪn/, it means "/treɪn/ the way native speakers say it in your region of the world".

[tʃ] for /t/ before /r/ is not a universal transformation. Depending on the speaker, you'll hear quite a range of variants, in each of which you may hear more or less of the [ʃ]. Where I live, it's just a /t/ that is a bit more aspirated ([tʰ]) before /r/ than before a vowel, not enough to be perceived as a definite [tʃ].

You should note also that the /ɹ/* is different when preceded by a consonant like /t/. It's essentially devoiced (/ɹ̥/). But because this is a general effect that occurs throughout the language, dictionaries do not mark it as different from an initial or intervocalic /ɹ/. The people who write dictionaries know that native speakers automatically devoice the /ɹ/ in certain known contexts, whether they know they are doing so or not. So it's not necessary to mark it in the dictionary. In fact, it might even cause more confusion.

You want "train" to be symbolized as /tʃreɪn/ because you say [tʃreɪn], and I want it symbolized as /tʰɹ̥eɪn/ because I say [tʰɹ̥eɪn], and someone else wants something else, and so on. This is never going to work!

*Note: /ɹ/ is the actual IPA symbol for an "r" in English, but dictionaries modify the IPA symbol for the readers' convenience. (IPA /r/ is the trilled "r" of some European languages.)

anonymousso shouldn't "train" be "/tʃreɪn/"?

No. As discussed above, it is not necessary for dictionaries to present pronunciations in narrow transcriptions. And it might even be a bad idea. Showing the phonemes is enough. Then everybody can realize the phonemes / ... / in sound [ ... ] as is done by their own regional group of speakers.

CJ