Phonetic transcription (or pronunciation) of date and diet


I'm an English learner and I've never been good at grammatical rules or other technical sides of English. However I need to learn them in order to graduate. And on my way to it, I'm taking a class in which we're learning about vowels and phonetic transcriptions of them. (I feel the need to clarify that we take RP - Received Pronunciation or British English - as basis)

What confuses me is that our instructor gave these two words ("date" and "diet") as an example for homophones. He said that these words are pronounced the same but differ in meaning. As far as I know, when we pronounce diet (/daɪət/), we're using an "a" while date (/deɪt/) doesn't include it.

I've been thinking that his teaching experience of decades would be superior than my knowledge, but I am really confused. Is it safe to say that my instructor has a wrong idea?


Posted 2017-12-27T19:21:19.197

Reputation: 113

1I'm not great at phonetic transcriptions, but "diet" is pronounced like dye-it and "date" is pronounced like dayt, so I don't know how they are homophones. Homophones are like "knight" and "night"; "bare" and "bear"; "to", "too", and "two". – Nick – 2017-12-27T19:27:00.353

I tend to agree with you and @Nick, and disagree with your teacher. However, I've not heard a speaker of RP pronounce the two words; my ear and tongue are acculturated to New York. – Jeff Zeitlin – 2017-12-27T19:29:43.697

In "diet", we're using a long "i" sound whereas, in "date", we're using a long "a" sound. – Nick – 2017-12-27T19:29:59.837

@Nick, can you do an RP accent? When I try to fake it (probably poorly) the two sound more similar, but I agree there is still a distinct difference. – Andrew – 2017-12-27T19:31:40.520


Depends where the teacher is from. Someone who says "I went on a dite, mite" could be speaking Strine.

– Weather Vane – 2017-12-27T19:32:36.177

No, I can't do it very well without faking it, but I don't understand why he would even need to learn RP. It's a fake accent, which is about 200 years old, that has never been a true British accent; it was just created to sound fancy. I've just put more of a standard pronunciation in it as I think that that makes more sense here than a contrived, stilted accent. – Nick – 2017-12-27T19:35:13.587

1I thought one of the characteristics of RP is excellent diction -- which means you would pronounce both syllables of "diet", while "date" is always one syllable. – Andrew – 2017-12-27T19:42:35.940

I agree, Andrew. If we are strictly talking about RP, then I think they both have a long "i" sound, but "diet" might have two syllables to the one in "date". – Nick – 2017-12-27T19:58:23.563

@WeatherVane he's from Turkey. I can say that his British accent is not great -he says he's aware of that- but he's trying to be consistent on that. – semihcosu – 2017-12-27T20:25:18.627

1@semihcosu the good news is that your teacher is still learning. – Weather Vane – 2017-12-27T20:29:01.290

He's chosen the wrong British accent to affect then because this one is a stilted one that was contrived a couple centuries ago to make the posh sound posher. – Nick – 2017-12-27T20:29:47.227

@Nick that remains in the affected upper-class English accent today. "My house" ==> "My hise". They learn the pronunciation from their peers, parents, grand-parents . . . just as we all do, and believe it is normal, and anybody who speak different is wrong, or peculiar, or not "one of us". Just like all regional variations - which my be geographical or social. – Weather Vane – 2017-12-27T20:42:19.010

I suppose, but it's only about 200 years old and was contrived to sound posh. I think it sounds stupid, but so does Cockney. – Nick – 2017-12-27T20:58:09.533

@Nick you have illustrated exactly what I was trying to say . . . people who talk different are – to you – stupid. – Weather Vane – 2017-12-27T21:12:43.110

Okay, no, that's not what I was trying to say, Weather Vane. I think it is stupid to affect an accent that is itself an affectation of a much larger, more dominant accent. 3 to 4% of people in England use this type of accent because it is a new one that was contrived about two centuries ago. He should affect an accent that itself is not an affectation. – Nick – 2017-12-27T21:14:59.800

@Nick you have lost me there. How is a new accent 200 years old? And what has "affecting an accent that is an affectation" to do with it? – Weather Vane – 2017-12-27T21:20:42.900

It means that, of all of the accents in England, it is the newest by far and it was "contrived", making it "stilted" in some way. Why does it matter, Weather Vane? Do you speak with that accent? Is that why I have somehow offended you? If so, please accept my apologies. It was my speaking out loud in posts and shouldn't have been done. – Nick – 2017-12-27T21:25:43.693

@Nick I would say the Essex dialect is much more recent.

– Weather Vane – 2017-12-27T21:38:17.743

Okay, Weather Vane. Would you accept my apologies? I think we are digressing from the original discussion post, which deals with the pronunciation of "diet" and "date" in RP. It was wrong of me to make such pretensions. – Nick – 2017-12-27T21:50:31.200



As mentioned in the comments, RP is a kind of made-up posh accent, and so might not be the best one to imitate.

In any case, one of the characteristics of this accent is excellent diction, meaning that an RP speaker should clearly pronounce both syllables of a word like "diet", the first syllable with a long "i" like "eye". Meanwhile "date" is a single syllable, with a long "a" like "cake".

It's possible these still sound similar, especially to non-native speakers (or anyone unfamiliar with the accent), but with practice you should be able to acclimate your ear to the differences.

Be aware that different dialects pronounce words differently. In parts of England or Ireland there may be those who would pronounce "diet" like "date" ... but I suspect even then you will hear clear differences, once you get used to the accent.

As Nick says, there are many common homophones in English: "knight" and "night", "bare" and "bear", "to", "too", and "two", and many others. Your teacher should probably use one of these instead.


Posted 2017-12-27T19:21:19.197

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