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Where can I find a reminder of the rules for pronouncing "oi" in French lyric diction? I need to sing the word "voix", so I looked it up on Wiktionary, which unhelpfully gives both pronunciations ("/vwɑ/, /vwa/") without any explanation of when, where or how each pronunciation is used. Which would be correct for use in an art song?

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In France the usual pronunciation of oi is /a/ as in [ʁwa], [vwa], [mwa]. The difference between /ɑ/ and /a/ is highly lost in contemporary French. What you can hear on Wiktionary is [vwa]. On the French side they only give the [vwa] IPA transcription.

Hearing [vwɑ] in an opera would probably not disturb me, I might not even notice it. I don't know much about lyric diction but I presume you need to obtain the correct number of syllables, so pronouncing oi as two distinct syllables such as [vu.a] or [ʁu.a] would not surprise me either.

As a side note I want to point out that in Québec they still pronounce the letters oi /wɛ/ as we used to do in France a few centuries ago.

  • the /ɑ ~ a/ distinction is only lost in European dialects (and maybe not even all of them). It is certainly well alive in Quebec (the final a of Canada is pronounced /ɑ/ here), though oi notoriously tends to move toward /we/, not /wɑ/. – Circeus Oct 21 at 16:39
  • @Circeus That's why I said in France, I did not want to speak for other European countries! Would you say oi in Québec is more like /we/ than /wɛ/ as said here ? – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Oct 21 at 17:12
  • I'm aware that the distinction between /ɑ/ and /a/ is disappearing in at least some areas, but it's alive and well if you're singing classical repertoire (or presumably if you're declaiming older drama or poetry). I guess the merging of those phonemes is part of the reason it's hard to check what the rules are (or used to be)! I have a dim memory of /ɑ/ after "r" (or possibly after "r" and "l"), /a/ elsewhere, but that may well be the opposite of what's correct... To me /vwa/ seems more likely anyway, and I'll happily take French Wiktionary as confirmation. – Counterpoise Oct 22 at 11:02
  • BTW I've tried looking at the edits of English Wiktionary to see who added a second pronunciation (and which that was), but I'm finding that much harder to do than on Wikipedia - can anyone else help with that? – Counterpoise Oct 22 at 11:02
  • Québecois pronunciation is apparently useful if you're singing French Baroque repertoire, so for example both français and François would have then been pronounced with /wɛ/, if I remember rightly... – Counterpoise Oct 22 at 11:05

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