What does () mean in IPA?

The word expanse in the Merriam Webster dictionary has this IPA transcription.

ik-ˈspan(t)s

Does the () mean that the t is optional, or that it’s very lightly pronounced? It would seem more logical that the parentheses indicate that it’s optional, yet when I find the word in online recordings with a t, there is only vague traces of it.

Answer

Merriam-Webster does not actually use IPA (in IPA “expanse” is standardly transcribed as /ɪkˈspæns/, although /ɪkˈspans/ is another possible representation). Parentheses are not an official part of regular IPA. In this context, they indicate “optional” sounds, as described in this “Guide to Pronunciation” from one of Merriam-Webster’s dictionaries. Often the sounds are optional because the phonetic context makes it hard to hear the difference between the alternative pronunciations.

There is a good explanation of the optional [t] in the answers to the following question: Should the IPA of the word “conscious” be /ˈkɑːnʃəs/ or /ˈkɑːntʃəs/?

Attribution
Source : Link , Question Author : Gelb , Answer Author : herisson

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