Most teachers of English will have come across a sound chart at some point, but few realise how arbitrary they are. I do not mean ‘arbitrary’ in the negative sense of ‘with no good reason’, but rather in the sense that there are choices that the designer has had to make. At every stage in the creation of a chart, the author will have made decisions which could equally well have been otherwise. Phonetic facts interplay with pedagogic priorities and graphic limitations, and these forces do not always pull in the same direction, so that compromises are required. Chart design is as much an art as a science.
A chart is not objective reality, but one person’s model of reality. In this article, I will present a sound chart of my own creation and explain the rationale for the decisions I made when designing it. The full charts referred to below can be viewed here. Continue reading “The Art of the Chart”