International Phonetic Alphabet

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International Phonetic Alphabet
IPA in IPA.svg
Alphabet, partially featural
LanguagesUsed for phonetic and phonemic transcription of any language
Time period
since 1888
Parent systems
Romic alphabet
  • Phonotypic alphabet
    • International Phonetic Alphabet
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Not to be confused with NATO phonetic alphabet or Americanist phonetic notation. For other uses, see IPA (disambiguation).
For usage of IPA in Wikipedia, see Help:IPA, Help:IPA/Introduction or Help:IPA for English
International Phonetic Alphabet
IPA in IPA.svg
Alphabet, partially featural
LanguagesUsed for phonetic and phonemic transcription of any language
Time period
since 1888
Parent systems
Romic alphabet
  • Phonotypic alphabet
    • International Phonetic Alphabet

The International Phonetic Alphabet (unofficially—though commonly—abbreviated IPA)[note 1] is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin alphabet. It was devised by the International Phonetic Association as a standardized representation of the sounds of oral language.[1] The IPA is used by lexicographers, foreign language students and teachers, linguists, speech-language pathologists, singers, actors, constructed language creators, and translators.[2][3]

The IPA is designed to represent only those qualities of speech that are part of oral language: phones, phonemes, intonation, and the separation of words and syllables.[1] To represent additional qualities of speech, such as tooth gnashing, lisping, and sounds made with a cleft palate, an extended set of symbols called the Extensions to the IPA may be used.[2]

IPA symbols are composed of one or more elements of two basic types, letters and diacritics. For example, the sound of the English letter t may be transcribed in IPA with a single letter, [t], or with a letter plus diacritics, [t̺ʰ], depending on how precise one wishes to be.[note 2] Often, slashes are used to signal broad or phonemic transcription; thus, /t/ is less specific than, and could refer to, either [t̺ʰ] or [t] depending on the context and language.

Occasionally letters or diacritics are added, removed, or modified by the International Phonetic Association. As of the most recent change in 2005,[4] there are 107 letters, 52 diacritics, and four prosodic marks in the IPA. These are shown in the current IPA chart, posted below in this article and at the website of the IPA.[5]


Main article: History of the IPA

In 1886, a group of French and British language teachers, led by the French linguist Paul Passy, formed what would come to be known from 1897 onwards as the International Phonetic Association (in French, l’Association phonétique internationale).[6] Their original alphabet was based on a spelling reform for English known as the Romic alphabet, but in order to make it usable for other languages, the values of the symbols were allowed to vary from language to language.[7] For example, the sound [ʃ] (the sh in shoe) was originally represented with the letter c in English, but with the digraph ch in French.[6] However, in 1888, the alphabet was revised so as to be uniform across languages, thus providing the base for all future revisions.[6][8]

Since its creation, the IPA has undergone a number of revisions. After major revisions and expansions in 1900 and 1932, the IPA remained unchanged until the IPA Kiel Convention in 1989. A minor revision took place in 1993 with the addition of four letters for mid-central vowels[2] and the removal of letters for voiceless implosives.[9] The alphabet was last revised in May 2005 with the addition of a letter for a labiodental flap.[10] Apart from the addition and removal of symbols, changes to the IPA have consisted largely in renaming symbols and categories and in modifying typefaces.[2]

Extensions to the IPA for speech pathology were created in 1990 and officially adopted by the International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association in 1994.[11]


The official chart of the IPA as of 2005. Click to enlarge. The proper symbols for upstep and downstep are not available in this font, and have been substituted.
For a guide to pronouncing IPA transcriptions of English words, see IPA chart for English dialects.

The general principle of the IPA is to provide one letter for each distinctive sound (speech segment) although this practice is not followed if the sound itself is complex.[12] This means that:

Among the symbols of the IPA, 107 letters represent consonants and vowels, 31 diacritics are used to modify these, and 19 additional signs indicate suprasegmental qualities such as length, tone, stress, and intonation.[note 4] These are organized into a chart; the chart displayed here is the official chart as posted at the website of the IPA.


The letters chosen for the IPA are meant to harmonize with the Latin alphabet.[note 5] For this reason, most letters are either Latin or Greek, or modifications thereof. Some letters are neither: for example, the letter denoting the glottal stop, ʔ, has the form of a dotless question mark, and derives originally from an apostrophe. A few letters, such as that of the voiced pharyngeal fricative, ʕ, were inspired by other writing systems (in this case, the Arabic letter ‘ain).[9]

Despite its preference for harmonizing with the Latin script, the International Phonetic Association has occasionally admitted other letters. For example, before 1989, the IPA letters for click consonants were ʘ, ʇ, ʗ, and ʖ, all of which were derived either from existing IPA letters, or from Latin and Greek letters. However, except for ʘ, none of these letters were widely used among Khoisanists or Bantuists, and as a result they were replaced by the more widespread symbols ʘ, ǀ, ǃ, ǂ, and ǁ at the IPA Kiel Convention in 1989.[13] Although the IPA diacritics are fully featural, there is little systemicity in the letter forms. A retroflex articulation is consistently indicated with a right-swinging tail, as in ɖ ʂ ɳ, and implosion by a top hook, ɓ ɗ ɠ, but other pseudo-featural elements are due to haphazard derivation and coincidence. For example, all nasal consonants but uvular ɴ are based on the form n: m ɱ n ɲ ɳ ŋ. However, the similarity between m and n is a historical accident, ɲ and ŋ are derived from ligatures of gn and ng, and ɱ is an ad hoc imitation of ŋ. In none of these is the form consistent with other letters that share these places of articulation.[citation needed]

Some of the new letters were ordinary Latin letters turned upside-down, such as ɐ ɔ ə ɟ ɥ ɯ ɹ ʇ ʌ ʍ ʎ (turned a c e f h m r t v w y). This was easily done in the era of mechanical typesetting, and had the advantage of not requiring the casting of special type for IPA symbols.

Symbols and sounds[edit]

The International Phonetic Alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, using as few non-Latin forms as possible.[6] The Association created the IPA so that the sound values of most consonant letters taken from the Latin alphabet would correspond to "international usage".[6] Hence, the letters b, d, f, (hard) ɡ, (non-silent) h, (unaspirated) k, l, m, n, (unaspirated) p, (voiceless) s, (unaspirated) t, v, w, and z have the values used in English; and the vowel letters from the Latin alphabet (a, e, i, o, u) correspond to the (long) sound values of Latin: [i] is like the vowel in machine, [u] is as in rule, etc. Other letters may differ from English, but are used with these values in other European languages, such as j, r, and y.

This inventory was extended by using capital or cursive forms, diacritics, and rotation. There are also several symbols derived or taken from the Greek alphabet, though the sound values may differ. For example, ʋ is a vowel in Greek, but an only indirectly related consonant in the IPA. Though most of these subtly different glyph shapes have been devised for the IPA, in particular ɑ, ɣ, ɛ, ɸ, and ʋ which are encoded in Unicode separately from their Greek "parent" letters, three of these (β, θ and χ) are often used unmodified in form as they have not been encoded separately. However, β has been accepted for encoding as a separate character.

The sound values of modified Latin letters can often be derived from those of the original letters.[14] For example, letters with a rightward-facing hook at the bottom represent retroflex consonants; and small capital letters usually represent uvular consonants. Apart from the fact that certain kinds of modification to the shape of a letter generally correspond to certain kinds of modification to the sound represented, there is no way to deduce the sound represented by a symbol from its shape (as for example in Visible Speech) nor even any systematic relation between signs and the sounds they represent (as in Hangul).

Beyond the letters themselves, there are a variety of secondary symbols which aid in transcription. Diacritic marks can be combined with IPA letters to transcribe modified phonetic values or secondary articulations. There are also special symbols for suprasegmental features such as stress and tone that are often employed.

Brackets and phonemes[edit]

There are two principal types of brackets used to set off IPA transcriptions:

For example, while the /p/ sounds of pin and spin are pronounced slightly differently in English (and this difference would be meaningful in some languages), the difference is not meaningful in English. Thus phonemically the words are /pɪn/ and /spɪn/, with the same /p/ phoneme. However, to capture the difference between them (the allophones of /p/), they can be transcribed phonetically as [pʰɪn] and [spɪn].

Other conventions are less commonly seen:

Handwritten forms[edit]

An example of a printed text with IPA letters filled in by hand. The two words at the beginning of line 1 are sɨk and sɔ̄k. The ɔ has a cursive form that looks somewhat like a 2 or a small-capital Q in some cursive hands.
Main article: Handwritten IPA

IPA letters have handwritten forms designed for use in manuscripts and when taking field notes; they are occasionally seen in publications when the printer did not have fonts that supported IPA, and the IPA was therefore filled in by hand.

Modifying the IPA chart[edit]

Often, textbook authors or others create revised versions of the IPA chart, expressing their own preferences or needs. This is one such version. Only the black symbols are part of the IPA; additional symbols are in grey.

The International Phonetic Alphabet is occasionally modified by the Association. After each modification, the Association provides an updated simplified presentation of the alphabet in the form of a chart. (See History of the IPA.) The most recent official chart, from 2005, is presented above. Not all aspects of the alphabet can be accommodated in a chart. The indefinitely large number of tone letters, for example, make a full accounting impractical, and only a few examples are shown.

The procedure for modifying the alphabet or the chart is to propose the change in the Journal of the IPA. (See, for example, August 2008 on a low central vowel and August 2011 on central approximants.)[16] Reactions to the proposal may be published in the same or subsequent issues of the Journal (as in August 2009 on the low central vowel).[17] A formal proposal is then put to the Council of the IPA[18] (which is elected by the membership) [19] for further discussion and a formal vote.[20][21]

Only changes to the alphabet or chart that have been approved by the Council can be considered part of the official IPA. Nonetheless, many users of the alphabet, including the leadership of the Association itself, make personal changes or additions in their own practice, either for convenience in working on a particular language (see "Illustrations of the IPA" for individual languages in the Handbook, which for example may use c for [tʃ]),[22] or because they object to some aspect of the official version. For example, the chart displayed here is reorganized in response to perceived shortcomings of the official version, and in places reflects the organization of the 1979 chart.


Further information: Phonetic transcription
Ébauche is a French term meaning outline or blank.

Although the IPA offers over 160 symbols for transcribing speech, only a relatively small subset of these will be used to transcribe any one language. It is possible to transcribe speech with various levels of precision. A precise phonetic transcription, in which sounds are described in a great deal of detail, is known as a narrow transcription. A coarser transcription which ignores some of this detail is called a broad transcription. Both are relative terms, and both are generally enclosed in square brackets.[1] Broad phonetic transcriptions may restrict themselves to easily heard details, or only to details that are relevant to the discussion at hand, and may differ little if at all from phonemic transcriptions, but they make no theoretical claim that all the distinctions transcribed are necessarily meaningful in the language.

Phonetic transcriptions of the word international in two English dialects. The square brackets indicate that the differences between these dialects are not necessarily sufficient to distinguish different words in English.

For example, the English word little may be transcribed broadly using the IPA as [ˈlɪtəl], and this broad (imprecise) transcription is a more or less accurate description of many pronunciations. A narrower transcription may focus on individual or dialectical details: [ˈɫɪɾɫ] in General American, [ˈlɪʔo] in Cockney, or [ˈɫɪːɫ] in Southern US English.

It is customary to use simpler letters, without many diacritics, in phonemic transcriptions. The choice of IPA letters may reflect the theoretical claims of the author, or merely be a convenience for typesetting. For instance, in English, either the vowel of pick or the vowel of peak may be transcribed as /i/ (for the pairs /pik, piːk/ or /pɪk, pik/), and neither is identical to the vowel of the French word pique which is also generally transcribed /i/. That is, letters between slashes do not have absolute values, something true of broader phonetic approximations as well. A narrow transcription may, however, be used to distinguish them: [pʰɪk], [pʰiːk], [pikʲ].


Although IPA is popular for transcription by linguists, American linguists often alternate use of the IPA with Americanist phonetic notation or use the IPA together with some nonstandard symbols, for reasons including reducing the error rate on reading handwritten transcriptions or avoiding perceived awkwardness of IPA in some situations. The exact practice may vary somewhat between languages and even individual researchers, so authors are generally encouraged to include a chart or other explanation of their choices.[23]

Language study[edit]

A page from an English language textbook used in Russia. The IPA is used to teach the different pronunciations of the digraph th (/θ/, /ð/) and to show the pronunciation of newly introduced words polite, everything, always, forget.

Some language study programs use the IPA to teach pronunciation. For example, in Russia (and earlier in the Soviet Union) and mainland China, textbooks for children[24] and adults[25] for studying English and French consistently use the IPA. English teachers and textbooks in Taiwan tend to use the Kenyon and Knott system instead.



Many British dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary and some learner's dictionaries such as the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, now use the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent the pronunciation of words.[26] However, most American (and some British) volumes use one of a variety of pronunciation respelling systems, intended to be more comfortable for readers of English. For example, the respelling systems in many American dictionaries (such as Merriam-Webster) use y for IPA [j] and sh for IPA [ʃ], reflecting common representations of those sounds in written English,[27] using only letters of the English Roman alphabet and variations of them. (In IPA, [y] represents the sound of the French u (as in tu), and [sh] represents the pair of sounds in grasshopper.)

Other languages[edit]

The IPA is also not universal among dictionaries in languages other than English. Monolingual dictionaries of languages with generally phonemic orthographies generally do not bother with indicating the pronunciation of most words, and tend to use respelling systems for words with unexpected pronunciations. Dictionaries produced in Israel use the IPA rarely and sometimes use the Hebrew script for transcription of foreign words. Monolingual Hebrew dictionaries use pronunciation respelling for words with unusual spelling; for example, Even-Shoshan Dictionary respells תָּכְנִית as תּוֹכְנִית because this word uses kamatz katan. Bilingual dictionaries that translate from foreign languages into Russian usually employ the IPA, but monolingual Russian dictionaries occasionally use pronunciation respelling for foreign words; for example, Ozhegov's dictionary adds нэ́ in brackets for the French word пенсне (pince-nez) to indicate that the е does not iotate the н.

The IPA is more common in bilingual dictionaries, but there are exceptions here too. Mass-market bilingual Czech dictionaries, for instance, tend to use the IPA only for sounds not found in the Czech language.[28]

Standard orthographies and capital variants[edit]

IPA letters have been incorporated into the alphabets of various languages, notably via the Africa Alphabet in sub-Saharan Africa: Hausa, Fula, Akan, Gbe languages, Manding languages, Lingala, etc. This has created the need for capital variants. For example, Kabiyé of northern Togo has Ɔ ɔ, Ɛ ɛ, Ɖ ɖ, Ŋ ŋ, Ɣ ɣ, Ʃ ʃ, Ʊ ʊ (or Ʋ ʋ):


These, and others, are supported by Unicode, but appear in Latin ranges other than the IPA extensions.

In the IPA itself, only lower-case letters are used. The 1949 edition of the IPA handbook indicated that an asterisk * may be prefixed to indicate that a word is a proper name,[29] but this convention has not been included in recent editions.

Classical singing[edit]

IPA has widespread use among classical singers for preparation, especially among English-speaking singers who are expected to sing in a variety of foreign languages. Opera librettos are authoritatively transcribed in IPA, such as Nico Castel's volumes[30] and Timothy Cheek's book Singing in Czech.[31] Opera singers' ability to read IPA was recently used by the Visual Thesaurus, which employed several opera singers "to make recordings for the 150,000 words and phrases in VT's lexical database. ...for their vocal stamina, attention to the details of enunciation, and most of all, knowledge of IPA."[32]

Product names[edit]

It is relatively common to find IPA used in Japanese product names, either as an adjunct to indicate the pronunciation, or as the only form of the name apart from a possible katakana gloss.[33] An example of IPA used on its own is the former Mazda brand ɛ̃fini. IPA is also common in Japan for decoration on T-shirts and other garments and accessories.


The International Phonetic Association organizes the letters of the IPA into three categories: pulmonic consonants, non-pulmonic consonants, and vowels.[34][35]

Pulmonic consonant letters are arranged singly or in pairs of voiceless (tenuis) and voiced sounds, with these then grouped in columns from front (labial) sounds on the left to back (glottal) sounds on the right. In official publications by the IPA,[36] two columns are omitted to save space, with the letters listed among 'other symbols',[37] and with the remaining consonants arranged in rows from full closure (occlusives: stops and nasals), to brief closure (vibrants: trills and taps), to partial closure (fricatives) and minimal closure (approximants), again with a row left out to save space. In the table below, a slightly different arrangement is made: All pulmonic consonants are included in the pulmonic-consonant table, and the vibrants and laterals are separated out so that the rows reflect the common lenition pathway of stop → fricative → approximant, as well as the fact that several letters pull double duty as both fricative and approximant; affricates may be created by joining stops and fricatives from adjacent cells. Shaded cells are judged to be implausible.

Vowel letters are also grouped in pairs—of unrounded and rounded vowel sounds—with these pairs also arranged from front on the left to back on the right, and from maximal closure at top to minimal closure at bottom. No vowel letters are omitted from the chart, though in the past some of the mid central vowels were listed among the 'other symbols'.

Each character is assigned a number, to prevent confusion between similar letters (such as ɵ and θ, ɤ and ɣ, or ʃ and ʄ) in such situations as the printing of manuscripts. The categories of sounds are assigned different ranges of numbers.[38]


Main article: Consonant
IPA pulmonic consonantschart image • Loudspeaker.svg audio
Place →LabialCoronalDorsalRadicalGlottal
↓ MannerBila­bialLabio-​dentalDen​talAlve​olarPost­alveolarRetro​flexAlveolo-​palatalPal​a​talVe​larUvu​larPha​ryn​gealEpi​glot​talGlot​tal
Sibilant fricativeszʃʒʂʐɕʑ
Non-sibilant fricativeɸβfvθðθ̱ð̠ɹ̠̊˔ɹ̠˔çʝxɣχʁħʕʜʢhɦ
Flap or tapⱱ̟ɾ̥ɾɽɢ̆ʡ̯
Trillʙrɽ͡rʀ̥ʀ *
Lateral fricativeɬɮ *ʎ̝̊ʟ̝̊ʟ̝
Lateral approximantlɭʎʟ
Lateral flapɺɺ̢ *ʎ̯ʟ̆
Non-pulmonic consonants
Co-articulated consonants
— These tables contain phonetic symbols, which may not display correctly in some browsers. [Help]
— Where symbols appear in pairs, left–right represent the voiceless–voiced consonants.
— Shaded areas denote pulmonic articulations judged to be impossible.
— Symbols marked with an asterisk (*) are not defined in the IPA.

Pulmonic consonants[edit]

A pulmonic consonant is a consonant made by obstructing the glottis (the space between the vocal cords) or oral cavity (the mouth) and either simultaneously or subsequently letting out air from the lungs. Pulmonic consonants make up the majority of consonants in the IPA, as well as in human language. All consonants in the English language fall into this category.[42]

The pulmonic consonant table, which includes most consonants, is arranged in rows that designate manner of articulation, meaning how the consonant is produced, and columns that designate place of articulation, meaning where in the vocal tract the consonant is produced. The main chart includes only consonants with a single place of articulation.

Co-articulated consonants[edit]

Co-articulated consonants are sounds that involve two simultaneous places of articulation (are pronounced using two parts of the vocal tract). In English, the [w] in "went" is a coarticulated consonant, because it is pronounced by rounding the lips and raising the back of the tongue. Other languages, such as French and Swedish, have different coarticulated consonants.


Affricates and double articulated consonants[edit]

Affricates and doubly articulated stops are represented by two letters joined by a tie bar, either above or below the letters.[44] The six most common affricates are optionally represented by ligatures, though this is no longer official IPA usage,[1] because a great number of ligatures would be required to represent all affricates this way. Alternatively, a superscript notation for a consonant release is sometimes used to transcribe affricates, for example for t͡s, paralleling ~ k͡x. The letters for the palatal plosives c and ɟ, are often used as a convenience for t͡ʃ and d͡ʒ or similar affricates, even in official IPA publications, so they must be interpreted with care.

View this table as an image
Tie barLigatureDescription
t͡sʦvoiceless alveolar affricate
d͡zʣvoiced alveolar affricate
t͡ʃʧvoiceless postalveolar affricate
d͡ʒʤvoiced postalveolar affricate
t͡ɕʨvoiceless alveolo-palatal affricate
d͡ʑʥvoiced alveolo-palatal affricate
t͡ɬ –voiceless alveolar lateral affricate
k͡p –voiceless labial-velar plosive
ɡ͡b –voiced labial-velar plosive
ŋ͡m –labial-velar nasal stop
ɡ͡ɣ –voiced velar affricate

Non-pulmonic consonants[edit]

Non-pulmonic consonants are sounds whose airflow is not dependent on the lungs. These include clicks (found in the Khoisan languages of Africa), implosives (found in languages such as Sindhi, Swahili and Vietnamese), and ejectives (found in many Amerindian and Caucasian languages).

View this table as an image
ʘBilabialɓBilabialʼFor example:
ǀLaminal alveolar ("dental")ɗAlveolarBilabial
ǃApical (post-) alveolar ("retroflex")ʄPalatalAlveolar
ǂLaminal postalveolar ("palatal")ɠVelarVelar
ǁLateral coronal ("lateral")ʛUvularAlveolar fricative


Main article: Vowel
IPA vowel chart
Paired vowels are: unrounded • rounded
This table contains phonetic symbols, which may not display correctly in some browsers. [Help]

IPA help • IPA key • chart • Loudspeaker.svg chart with audio • view
Tongue positions of cardinal front vowels with highest point indicated. The position of the highest point is used to determine vowel height and backness.
An X-ray film shows the sounds [i, u, a, ɑ]

The IPA defines a vowel as a sound which occurs at a syllable center.[46] Below is a chart depicting the vowels of the IPA. The IPA maps the vowels according to the position of the tongue.

The vertical axis of the chart is mapped by vowel height. Vowels pronounced with the tongue lowered are at the bottom, and vowels pronounced with the tongue raised are at the top. For example, [ɑ] (the first vowel in father) is at the bottom because the tongue is lowered in this position. However, [i] (the vowel in "meet") is at the top because the sound is said with the tongue raised to the roof of the mouth.

In a similar fashion, the horizontal axis of the chart is determined by vowel backness. Vowels with the tongue moved towards the front of the mouth (such as [ɛ], the vowel in "met") are to the left in the chart, while those in which it is moved to the back (such as [ʌ], the vowel in "but") are placed to the right in the chart.

In places where vowels are paired, the right represents a rounded vowel (in which the lips are rounded) while the left is its unrounded counterpart.


Diphthongs are typically specified with a non-syllabic diacritic, as in aɪ̯. However, sometimes a tie bar is used, especially if it is difficult to tell if the vowel is characterized by an on-glide or an off-glide: a͡ɪ or o͜e.


Diacritics [edit]

Diacritics are small markings which are placed around the IPA letter in order to show a certain alteration or more specific description in the letter's pronunciation.[47] Subdiacritics (markings normally placed below a letter) may be placed above a letter having a descender (informally called a tail), e.g. ŋ̊, ȷ̈.[47]

The dotless i, ı, is used when the dot would interfere with the diacritic. Other IPA letters may appear as diacritic variants to represent phonetic detail: (fricative release), (breathy voice), ˀa (glottal onset), (epenthetic schwa), oᶷ (diphthongization). Additional diacritics were introduced in the Extensions to the IPA, which were designed principally for speech pathology.

View the diacritic table as an image
Syllabicity diacritics
◌̩ɹ̩ n̩Syllabic◌̯e̯ ʊ̯Non-syllabic
Consonant-release diacritics
◌ʰAspirated[a]◌̚No audible release
◌ⁿdⁿNasal release◌ˡLateral release
Phonation diacritics
◌̥n̥ d̥Voiceless◌̬s̬ t̬Voiced
◌̤b̤ a̤Breathy voiced[b]◌̰b̰ a̰Creaky voiced
Articulation diacritics
◌̪t̪ d̪Dental◌̼t̼ d̼Linguolabial
◌̺t̺ d̺Apical◌̻t̻ d̻Laminal
◌̟u̟ t̟Advanced◌̠i̠ t̠Retracted
◌̈ë äCentralized◌̽e̽ ɯ̽Mid-centralized
◌̝e̝ ɹ̝Raised (ɹ̝ = voiced alveolar nonsibilant fricative)
◌̞e̞ β̞Lowered (β̞ = bilabial approximant)
Co-articulation diacritics
◌̹ɔ̹ x̹More rounded◌̜ɔ̜ x̜ʷLess rounded
◌ʷtʷ dʷLabialized or labio-velarized◌ʲtʲ dʲPalatalized
◌ˠtˠ dˠVelarized◌ˤtˤ aˤPharyngealized
◌ᶣtᶣ dᶣLabio-palatalized◌̴ɫ Velarized or pharyngealized
◌̘e̘ o̘Advanced tongue root◌̙e̙ o̙Retracted tongue root
◌̃ẽ z̃Nasalized◌˞ɚ ɝRhotacized
a^ With aspirated voiced consonants, the aspiration is also voiced. Many linguists prefer one of the diacritics dedicated to breathy voice.
b^ Some linguists restrict this breathy-voice diacritic to sonorants, and transcribe obstruents as .

The state of the glottis can be finely transcribed with diacritics. A series of alveolar plosives ranging from an open to a closed glottis phonation are:

Open glottis[t]voiceless
[d̤]breathy voice, also called murmured
[d̥]slack voice
Sweet spot[d]modal voice
[d̬]stiff voice
[d̰]creaky voice
Closed glottis[ʔ͡t]glottal closure


These symbols describe the features of a language above the level of individual consonants and vowels, such as prosody, tone, length, and stress, which often operate on syllables, words, or phrases: that is, elements such as the intensity, pitch, and gemination of the sounds of a language, as well as the rhythm and intonation of speech.[48] Although most of these symbols indicate distinctions that are phonemic at the word level, symbols also exist for intonation on a level greater than that of the word.[48]

View this table as an image
Length, stress, and rhythm
ˈaPrimary stress (symbol goes
before stressed syllable)
ˌaSecondary stress (symbol goes
before stressed syllable)
aː kːLong (long vowel or
geminate consonant)
a.aSyllable breaks‿aLinking (absence of a break)
|Minor (foot) breakMajor (intonation) break
[49]Global rise [49]Global fall
Tone diacritics and tone letters
ŋ̋ e̋Extra high / topꜛkeUpstep
ŋ́ éHighŋ̌ ěGeneric rise
ŋ̄ ēMid
ŋ̀ èLowŋ̂ êGeneric fall
ŋ̏ ȅExtra low / bottomꜜkeDownstep

Finer distinctions of tone may be indicated by combining the tone diacritics and letters shown here, though not many fonts support this. The primary examples are high (mid) rising ɔ᷄, ɔ˧˥; low rising ɔ᷅, ɔ˩˧; high falling ɔ᷇, ɔ˥˧; low (mid) falling ɔ᷆, ɔ˧˩; peaking ɔ᷈, ɔ˧˥˧ (etc.); and dipping ɔ᷉, ɔ˧˩˧ (etc.). The correspondence between the diacritics and tone letters is only approximate; for example, diacritics only indicate generic peaking or dipping tones, while the tone letters can convey fine phonetic detail, with over a hundred peaking and hundred dipping tone contours that correspond to these two diacritics, or even approximately to the six rising and falling diacritics. Various combinations are used in the IPA Handbook despite not being found on the simplified official IPA chart. However, although it is theoretically possible to combine the three diacritics in any permutation, in practice only the six combinations given here are actually used.

A work-around for diacritics sometimes seen when a language has more than one rising or falling tone, and the author does not wish to completely abandon the IPA, is to restrict generic rising ɔ̌ and falling ɔ̂ for the higher-pitched of the rising and falling tones, ɔ˥˧ and ɔ˧˥, and to use the non-standard subscript diacritics ɔ̗ and ɔ̖ for the lower-pitched rising and falling tones, ɔ˩˧ and ɔ˧˩. When a language has four or six level tones, the two mid tones are sometimes transcribed as high-mid ɔ̍ (non-standard) and low-mid ɔ̄.

As with other IPA diacritics, such as length, aspiration, and rhoticity, the stress mark may be doubled to indicate an extra degree of stress.[50]

Obsolete and nonstandard symbols[edit]

The IPA inherited alternate symbols from various traditions, but eventually settled on one for each sound. The other symbols are now considered obsolete. An example is ɷ which has been standardized to ʊ. Several letters indicating secondary articulation have been dropped altogether, with the idea that such things should be indicated with diacritics: ƍ for is one. In addition, the rare voiceless implosive series ƥ ƭ ƈ ƙ ʠ has been dropped; they are now written ɓ̥ ɗ̥ ʄ̊ ɠ̊ ʛ̥ or pʼ↓ tʼ↓ cʼ↓ kʼ↓ qʼ↓. A rejected competing proposal for transcribing clicks, ʇ, ʗ, ʖ, is still sometimes seen, as the official letters ǀ, ǃ, ǁ may cause problems with legibility, especially when used with brackets ([ ] or / /), the letter l, or the prosodic marks |, ‖ (for this reason, some publications which use standard IPA click letters disallow IPA brackets).[51]

There are also unsupported or ad hoc letters from local traditions that find their way into publications that otherwise use the standard IPA. This is especially common with affricates such as the "barred lambda" ƛ for [t͜ɬ].

IPA extensions[edit]

The "Extensions to the IPA", often abbreviated as "extIPA", and sometimes called "Extended IPA", are symbols whose original purpose was to accurately transcribe disordered speech. At the IPA Kiel Convention in 1989, a group of linguists drew up the initial extensions,[52] which were based on the previous work of the PRDS (Phonetic Representation of Disordered Speech) Group in the early 1980s.[53] The extensions were first published in 1990, then modified, and published again in 1994 in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association, when they were officially adopted by the ICPLA.[54] While the original purpose was to transcribe disordered speech, linguists have used the extensions to designate a number of unique sounds within standard communication, such as hushing, gnashing teeth, and smacking lips. The extensions have also been used to record certain peculiarities in an individual's voice, such as nasalized voicing.[2]

The Extensions to the IPA do not include symbols used for voice quality (VoQS), such as whispering.

Segments without letters[edit]

The remaining blank cells on the IPA chart can be filled without too much difficulty if the need arises. Some ad hoc letters have appeared in the literature for the retroflex lateral flap, the voiceless lateral fricatives, the epiglottal trill, and the labiodental plosives. (See the grey letters in the PDF chart.) Diacritics can supply much of the remainder, which would indeed be appropriate if the sounds were allophones.[55] If a sound cannot be transcribed, an asterisk * may be used, either as a letter or as a diacritic (as in k* sometimes seen for the Korean 'fortis' velar).


Representations of consonant sounds outside of the core set are created by adding diacritics to letters with similar sound values. The Spanish bilabial and dental approximants are commonly written as lowered fricatives, [β̞] and [ð̞] respectively. Similarly, voiced lateral fricatives would be written as raised lateral approximants, [ɭ˔ ʎ̝ ʟ̝]. A few languages such as Banda have a bilabial flap as the preferred allophone of what is elsewhere a labiodental flap. It has been suggested that this be written with the labiodental flap letter and the advanced diacritic, [ⱱ̟].[56]

Similarly, a labiodental trill would be written [ʙ̪] (bilabial trill and the dental sign), and labiodental stops [p̪ b̪] rather than with the ad hoc letters sometimes found in the literature. Other taps can be written as extra-short plosives or laterals, e.g. [ɟ̆ ɢ̆/ʀ̆ ʟ̆], though in some cases the diacritic would need to be written below the letter. A retroflex trill can be written as a retracted [r̠], just as retroflex fricatives sometimes are. The remaining consonants, the uvular laterals (ʟ̠ etc.) and the palatal trill, while not strictly impossible, are very difficult to pronounce and are unlikely to occur even as allophones in the world's languages.


The vowels are similarly manageable by using diacritics for raising, lowering, fronting, backing, centering, and mid-centering.[57] For example, the unrounded equivalent of [ʊ] can be transcribed as mid-centered [ɯ̽], and the rounded equivalent of [æ] as raised [ɶ̝]. True mid vowels are lowered [e̞ ø̞ ɘ̞ ɵ̞ ɤ̞ o̞], while centered [ɪ̈ ʊ̈] and [ä] are near-close and open central vowels, respectively. The only known vowels that cannot be represented in this scheme are vowels with unexpected roundedness, which would require a dedicated diacritic, such as ʏʷ and uᵝ (or ɪʷ and ɯᵝ).

Symbol names[edit]

An IPA symbol is often distinguished from the sound it is intended to represent, since there is not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between letter and sound in broad transcription, making articulatory descriptions such as 'mid front rounded vowel' or 'voiced velar stop' unreliable. While the Handbook of the International Phonetic Association states that no official names exist for its symbols, it admits the presence of one or two common names for each.[58] The symbols also have nonce names in the Unicode standard. In some cases, the Unicode names and the IPA names do not agree. For example, IPA calls ɛ "epsilon", but Unicode calls it "small letter open E".

The traditional names of the Latin and Greek letters are usually used for unmodified letters.[note 6] Letters which are not directly derived from these alphabets, such as [ʕ], may have a variety of names, sometimes based on the appearance of the symbol, and sometimes based on the sound that it represents. In Unicode, some of the letters of Greek origin have Latin forms for use in IPA; the others use the letters from the Greek section.

For diacritics, there are two methods of naming. For traditional diacritics, the IPA notes the name in a well known language; for example, é is acute, based on the name of the diacritic in English and French. Non-traditional diacritics are often named after objects they resemble, so is called bridge.

Pullum and Ladusaw list a variety of names in use for IPA symbols, both current and retired, in addition to names of many other non-IPA phonetic symbols.[9] Their collection is extensive enough that the Unicode Consortium used it in the development of Unicode.

ASCII and keyboard transliterations[edit]

Several systems have been developed that map the IPA symbols to ASCII characters. Notable systems include Kirshenbaum, Arpabet, SAMPA, and X-SAMPA. The usage of mapping systems in on-line text has to some extent been adopted in the context input methods, allowing convenient keying of IPA characters that would be otherwise unavailable on standard keyboard layouts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The acronym 'IPA' strictly refers [...] to the 'International Phonetic Association'. But it is now such a common practice to use the acronym also to refer to the alphabet itself (from the phrase 'International Phonetic Alphabet') that resistance seems pedantic. Context usually serves to disambiguate the two usages." (Laver 1994:561)
  2. ^ The inverted bridge under the t specifies it as apical (pronounced with the tip of the tongue), and the superscript h shows that it is aspirated (breathy). Both these qualities cause the English [t] to sound different from the French or Spanish [t], which is a laminal (pronounced with the blade of the tongue) and unaspirated [t̻]. t̺ʰ and are thus two different IPA symbols for two different, though similar, sounds.
  3. ^ For instance, flaps and taps are two different kinds of articulation, but since no language has (yet) been found to make a distinction between, say, an alveolar flap and an alveolar tap, the IPA does not provide such sounds with dedicated letters. Instead, it provides a single letter (in this case, [ɾ]) for both. Strictly speaking, this makes the IPA a partially phonemic alphabet, not a purely phonetic one.
  4. ^ There are five basic tone diacritics and five basic tone letters, both sets of which are compounded for contour tones.
  5. ^ "The non-roman letters of the International Phonetic Alphabet have been designed as far as possible to harmonize well with the roman letters. The Association does not recognize makeshift letters; It recognizes only letters which have been carefully cut so as to be in harmony with the other letters." (IPA 1949)
  6. ^ For example, [p] is called "Lower-case P" and [χ] is "Chi." (International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 171)


  1. ^ a b c d International Phonetic Association (IPA), Handbook.
  2. ^ a b c d e f MacMahon, Michael K. C. (1996). "Phonetic Notation". In P. T. Daniels and W. Bright (eds.). The World's Writing Systems. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 821–846. ISBN 0-19-507993-0. 
  3. ^ Wall, Joan (1989). International Phonetic Alphabet for Singers: A Manual for English and Foreign Language Diction. Pst. ISBN 1-877761-50-8. 
  4. ^ "IPA: Alphabet". Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  5. ^ "current IPA chart" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  6. ^ a b c d e International Phonetic Association, Handbook, pp. 194–196
  7. ^ "Originally, the aim was to make available a set of phonetic symbols which would be given different articulatory values, if necessary, in different languages." (International Phonetic Association, Handbook, pp. 195–196)
  8. ^ Passy, Paul (1888). "Our revised alphabet". The Phonetic Teacher: 57–60. 
  9. ^ a b c Pullum and Ladusaw, Phonetic Symbol Guide, pp. 152, 209
  10. ^ Nicolaidis, Katerina (September 2005). "Approval of New IPA Sound: The Labiodental Flap". International Phonetic Association. Retrieved 2006-09-17. 
  11. ^ International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 186
  12. ^ “From its earliest days...the International Phonetic Association has aimed to provide ‘a separate sign for each distinctive sound; that is, for each sound which, being used instead of another, in the same language, can change the meaning of a word’.” (International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 27)
  13. ^ Laver, Principles of Phonetics,pp. 174–175
  14. ^ Handbook, International Phonetic Association, p. 196, "The new letters should be suggestive of the sounds they represent, by their resemblance to the old ones." .
  15. ^ True angle brackets, ⟨...⟩ (U+27E8 and U+27E9), have only recently been supported by many non-mathematical fonts. Therefore chevrons ‹...› (U+2039, U+203A) are sometimes used in substitution, as are the less-than and greater-than signs <...> (U+003C, U+003E). See Help:IPA#Angle brackets for how they display in a selection of fonts.
  16. ^ "Cambridge Journals Online - Journal of the International Phonetic Association Vol. 41 Iss. 02". 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  17. ^ "Cambridge Journals Online - Journal of the International Phonetic Association Vol. 39 Iss. 02". 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  18. ^ "IPA: About us". Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  19. ^ "IPA: Statutes". Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  20. ^ "IPA: News". Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  21. ^ "IPA: News". Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  22. ^ IPA Handbook (1999)
  23. ^ a b Sally Thomason (January 2, 2008). "Why I Don't Love the International Phonetic Alphabet". Language Log. 
  24. ^ For example, the English school textbooks by I. N. Vereshagina, K. A. Bondarenko and T. A. Pritykina.
  25. ^ For example, "Le Français à la portée de tous" by K. K. Parchevsky and E. B. Roisenblit (1995) and "English Through Eye and Ear" by L.V. Bankevich (1975).
  26. ^ "Phonetics". Cambridge Dictionaries Online. 2002. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  27. ^ "Merriam-Webster Online Pronunciation Symbols". Retrieved 2007-06-04. 
    Agnes, Michael (1999). Webster's New World College Dictionary. New York, NY: Macmillan USA. xxiii. ISBN 0-02-863119-6. 
    Pronunciation respelling for English has detailed comparisons.
  28. ^ (Czech) Fronek, J. (2006). Velký anglicko-český slovník (in Czech). Praha: Leda. ISBN 80-7335-022-X. "In accordance with long-established Czech lexicographical tradition, a modified version of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is adopted in which letters of the Czech alphabet are employed." 
  29. ^ Principles of the International Phonetic Association, 1949:17.
  30. ^ "Nico Castel's Complete Libretti Series". Castel Opera Arts. Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  31. ^ Cheek, Timothy (2001). Singing in Czech. The Scarecrow Press. p. 392. ISBN 0-8108-4003-0. ISBN 978-0-8108-4003-4. 
  32. ^ Zimmer, Benjamin (2008-05-14). "Operatic IPA and the Visual Thesaurus". Language Log. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 2009-09-29. 
  33. ^ Wells, John (2007-10-26). "IPA transcription goes public". Blog. 
  34. ^ "Segments can usefully be divided into two major categories, consonants and vowels." (International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 3)
  35. ^ International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 6.
  36. ^ Reproduced here
  37. ^ "for presentational convenience [...] because of [their] rarity and the small number of types of sounds which are found there." (IPA Handbook, p 18)
  38. ^ A chart of IPA numbers can be found on the IPA website.IPA number chart
  39. ^ Ladefoged and Maddieson, 1996, Sounds of the World's Languages, §2.1.
  40. ^ Ladefoged and Maddieson, 1996, Sounds of the World's Languages, §9.3.
  41. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8.  p 18
  42. ^ Fromkin, Victoria; Rodman, Robert (1998) [1974]. An Introduction to Language (6th ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. ISBN 0-03-018682-X. 
  43. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Ian Maddieson (1996). The sounds of the world's languages. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 329–330. ISBN 0-631-19815-6. 
  44. ^ "It is traditional to place the tie bar above the letters. It may be placed below to avoid overlap with ascenders or diacritic marks, or simply because it is more legible that way, as in Niesler, Louw, & Roux (2005) [Phonetic analysis of Afrikaans, English, Xhosa and Zulu using South African speech databases". Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  45. ^ Amanda L. Miller et al., "Differences in airstream and posterior place of articulation among Nǀuu lingual stops". Submitted to the Journal of the International Phonetic Association. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  46. ^ International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 10.
  47. ^ a b International Phonetic Association, Handbook, pp. 14–15.
  48. ^ a b International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 13.
  49. ^ a b The global rise and fall arrows come before the affected syllable or prosodic unit, like stress and upstep/downstep. This contrasts with the Chao tone letters, which come after.
  50. ^ An example in French, with a single stress mark for normal prosodic stress at the end of each prosodic unit (marked as a minor prosodic break), and a double stress mark for contrastive/emphatic stress:
    [ˈˈɑ̃ːˈtre | məˈsjø, | ˈˈvwala maˈdam.] Entrez monsieur, voilà madame.
    (Passy, 1958, Conversations françaises en transcription phonétique. 2nd ed.)
  51. ^ "John Wells's phonetic blog". 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  52. ^ "At the 1989 Kiel Convention of the IPA, a sub-group was established to draw up recommendations for the transcription of disordered speech." ("Extensions to the IPA: An ExtIPA Chart" in International Phonetic Association, Handbook, pp. 186.)
  53. ^ PRDS Group (1983). The Phonetic Representation of Disordered Speech. London: The King's Fund. 
  54. ^ "Extensions to the IPA: An ExtIPA Chart" in International Phonetic Association, Handbook, pp. 186–187.
  55. ^ "Diacritics may also be employed to create symbols for phonemes, thus reducing the need to create new letter shapes." (International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 27)
  56. ^ Olson, Kenneth S.; & Hajek, John. (1999). The phonetic status of the labial flap. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 29 (2), pp. 101–114.
  57. ^ "The diacrtics...can be used to modify the lip or tongue position implied by a vowel symbol." (International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 16)
  58. ^ "...the International Phonetic Association has never officially approved a set of names..." (International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 31)

Further reading[edit]

  • Ball, Martin J.; John H. Esling & B. Craig. Dickson (1995). "The VoQS system for the transcription of voice quality". Journal of the International Phonetic Alphabet 25 (2): 71–80. doi:10.1017/S0025100300005181. 
  • Duckworth, M.; G. Allen, M.J. Ball (December 1990). "Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet for the transcription of atypical speech". Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 4 (4): 273–280. doi:10.3109/02699209008985489. 
  • Hill, Kenneth C.; Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Ladusaw, William (March 1988). "Review of Phonetic symbol guide by G. K. Pullum & W. Ladusaw". Language 64 (1): 143–144. doi:10.2307/414792. JSTOR 414792. 
  • International Phonetic Association (1989). "Report on the 1989 Kiel convention". Journal of the International Phonetic Alphabet 19 (2): 67–80. 
  • International Phonetic Association (1999). Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65236-7.  (hb); ISBN 0-521-63751-1 (pb).
  • Jones, Daniel (1988). English pronouncing dictionary (revised 14th ed.). London: Dent. ISBN 0-521-86230-2. OCLC 18415701. 
  • Ladefoged, Peter (September 1990). "The revised International Phonetic Alphabet". Language 66 (3): 550–552. doi:10.2307/414611. JSTOR 414611. 
  • Ladefoged, Peter; Morris Hale (September 1988). "Some major features of the International Phonetic Alphabet". Language 64 (3): 577–582. doi:10.2307/414533. JSTOR 414533. 
  • Laver, John (1994). Principles of Phonetics. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-45031-4.  (hb); ISBN 0-521-45655-X (pb).
  • Pullum, Geoffrey K.; William A. Ladusaw (1986). Phonetic symbol guide. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-68532-2. 
  • Skinner, Edith; Timothy Monich; Lilene Mansell (1990). Speak with Distinction. New York, NY: Applause Theatre Book Publishers. ISBN 1-55783-047-9. 

External links[edit]