The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin script. It was devised by the International Phonetic Association in the late 19th century as a standardized representation of speech sounds in written form.International Phonetic Association (IPA), ''Handbook''. The IPA is used by lexicographers, foreign language students and teachers, linguists, speech–language pathologists, singers, actors, constructed language creators and translators. The IPA is designed to represent those qualities of speech that are part of lexical (and to a limited extent prosodic) sounds in oral language: phones, phonemes, intonation and the separation of words and syllables. To represent additional qualities of speech, such as tooth gnashing, lisping, and sounds made with a cleft lip and cleft palate, an extended set of symbols, the extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet, may be used. IPA symbols are composed of one or more elements of two basic types, letters and diacritics. For example, the sound of the English letter may be transcribed in IPA with a single letter, , or with a letter plus diacritics, , depending on how precise one wishes to be.The inverted bridge under the 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 to sound different from the French or Spanish , which is a laminal (pronounced with the blade of the tongue) and unaspirated . and thus represent two different, though similar, sounds. Slashes are used to signal phonemic transcription; thus is more abstract than either or and might refer to either, 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, there are 107 segmental letters, an indefinitely large number of suprasegmental letters, 44 diacritics (not counting composites) and four extra-lexical prosodic marks in the IPA. Most of these are shown in the current IPA chart, posted below in this article and at the website of the IPA.


In 1886, a group of French and British language teachers, led by the French linguist Paul Passy, formed what would be known from 1897 onwards as the International Phonetic Association (in French, ').International Phonetic Association, ''Handbook'', pp. 194–196 Their original alphabet was based on a spelling reform for English known as the Romic alphabet, but to make it usable for other languages the values of the symbols were allowed to vary from language to language. For example, the sound (the ''sh'' in ''shoe'') was originally represented with the letter in English, but with the digraph in French. In 1888, the alphabet was revised so as to be uniform across languages, thus providing the base for all future revisions. The idea of making the IPA was first suggested by Otto Jespersen in a letter to Paul Passy. It was developed by Alexander John Ellis, Henry Sweet, Daniel Jones, and Passy. Since its creation, the IPA has undergone a number of revisions. After revisions and expansions from the 1890s to the 1940s, the IPA remained primarily unchanged until the Kiel Convention in 1989. A minor revision took place in 1993 with the addition of four letters for mid central vowels and the removal of letters for voiceless implosives.Pullum and Ladusaw, ''Phonetic Symbol Guide'', pp. 152, 209 The alphabet was last revised in May 2005 with the addition of a letter for a labiodental flap. Apart from the addition and removal of symbols, changes to the IPA have consisted largely of renaming symbols and categories and in modifying typefaces. Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet for speech pathology were created in 1990 and officially adopted by the International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association in 1994.


The general principle of the IPA is to provide one letter for each distinctive sound (speech segment). This means that: * It does not normally use combinations of letters to represent single sounds, the way English does with , and , or single letters to represent multiple sounds, the way represents or in English. * There are no letters that have context-dependent sound values, the way and in several European languages have a "hard" or "soft" pronunciation. * The IPA does not usually have separate letters for two sounds if no known language makes a distinction between them, a property known as "selectiveness". 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, ) for both. Strictly speaking, this makes the IPA a partially phon''em''ic alphabet, not a purely phon''et''ic one. **However, if a large number of phonemically distinct letters can be derived with a diacritic, that may be used instead.This exception to the rules was made primarily to explain why the IPA does not make a dental–alveolar distinction, despite one being phonemic in hundreds of languages, including most of the continent of Australia. Americanist Phonetic Notation makes (or at least made) a distinction between apical and laminal , which is easily applicable to alveolar vs dental (when a language distinguishes apical alveolar from laminal dental, as in Australia), but despite several proposals to the Council, the IPA never voted to accept such a distinction. The alphabet is designed for transcribing sounds (phones), not phonemes, though it is used for phonemic transcription as well. A few letters that did not indicate specific sounds have been retired (, once used for the "compound" tone of Swedish and Norwegian, and , once used for the moraic nasal of Japanese), though one remains: , used for the sj-sound of Swedish. When the IPA is used for phonemic transcription, the letter–sound correspondence can be rather loose. For example, and are used in the IPA ''Handbook'' for and . 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. There are five basic tone diacritics and five basic tone letters, both sets of which are compounded for contour tones. These are organized into a chart; the chart displayed here is the official chart as posted at the website of the IPA.

Letter forms

The letters chosen for the IPA are meant to harmonize with the Latin alphabet. "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) 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, , originally had the form of a dotless question mark, and derives from an apostrophe. A few letters, such as that of the voiced pharyngeal fricative, , were inspired by other writing systems (in this case, the Arabic letter 〈〉, ', via the reversed apostrophe). Some letter forms derive from existing letters: # The right-swinging tail, as in , marks retroflex articulation. It derives from the hook of an ''r''. # The top hook, as in , marks implosion. # Several nasal consonants are based on the form : . and derive from ligatures of ''gn'' and ''ng,'' and is an ''ad hoc'' imitation of . # Letters turned 180 degrees, such as 〈〉 (from 〈〉), when either the original letter (e.g., 〈〉) or the turned one (e.g., 〈〉) is reminiscent of the target sound. 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, much as the same type had often been used for b and q, d and p, n and u, 6 and 9 to cut down on expense.

Typography and iconicity

The International Phonetic Alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, using as few non-Latin forms as possible. The Association created the IPA so that the sound values of most consonant letters taken from the Latin alphabet would correspond to "international usage". Hence, the letters , , , (hard) , (non-silent) , (unaspirated) , , , , (unaspirated) , (voiceless) , (unaspirated) , , , and have the values used in English; and the vowel letters from the Latin alphabet (, , , , ) correspond to the (long) sound values of Latin: is like the vowel in ''machne'', is as in ''rle'', etc. Other letters may differ from English, but are used with these values in other European languages, such as , , and . This inventory was extended by using small-capital and 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, is a vowel in Greek, but an only indirectly related consonant in the IPA. For most of these, subtly different glyph shapes have been devised for the IPA, namely , , , , , , and , which are encoded in Unicode separately from their parent Greek letters, though one of them – – is not, while both Latin , and Greek , are in common use. The sound values of modified Latin letters can often be derived from those of the original letters. 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 transcription delimiters

There are two principal types of brackets used to set off (delimit) IPA transcriptions: Other conventions are less commonly seen: All three of the above are provided by the IPA ''Handbook''. The following are not, but may be seen in IPA transcription or in associated material (especially angle brackets):

Cursive forms

IPA letters have cursive forms designed for use in manuscripts and when taking field notes, but the 1999 ''Handbook of the International Phonetic Association'' recommended against their use, as cursive IPA is "harder for most people to decipher."

Letter g

In the early stages of the alphabet, the typographic variants of ''g'', opentail () and looptail (), represented different values, but are now regarded as equivalents. Opentail has always represented a voiced velar plosive, while was distinguished from and represented a voiced velar fricative from 1895 to 1900. Subsequently, represented the fricative, until 1931 when it was replaced again by . In 1948, the Council of the Association recognized and as typographic equivalents, and this decision was reaffirmed in 1993. While the 1949 ''Principles of the International Phonetic Association'' recommended the use of for a velar plosive and for an advanced one for languages where it is preferable to distinguish the two, such as Russian, this practice never caught on. The 1999 ''Handbook of the International Phonetic Association'', the successor to the ''Principles'', abandoned the recommendation and acknowledged both shapes as acceptable variants.

Modifying the IPA chart

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.) Not all aspects of the alphabet can be accommodated in a chart of the size published by the IPA. The alveolo-palatal and epiglottal consonants, for example, are not included in the consonant chart for reasons of space rather than of theory (two additional columns would be required, one between the retroflex and palatal columns and the other between the pharyngeal and glottal columns), and the lateral flap would require an additional row for that single consonant, so they are listed instead under the catchall block of "other symbols". The indefinitely large number of tone letters would make a full accounting impractical even on a larger page, 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 an open central unrounded vowel and August 2011 on central approximants.) Reactions to the proposal may be published in the same or subsequent issues of the Journal (as in August 2009 on the open central vowel). A formal proposal is then put to the Council of the IPA – which is elected by the membership – for further discussion and a formal vote. 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, deviate from the official system.


Of more than 160 IPA symbols, relatively few will be used to transcribe speech in any one language, with various levels of precision. A precise phonetic transcription, in which sounds are specified in detail, is known as a ''narrow transcription''. A coarser transcription with less detail is called a ''broad transcription.'' Both are relative terms, and both are generally enclosed in square brackets. 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. For example, the English word ''little'' may be transcribed broadly as , approximately describing many pronunciations. A narrower transcription may focus on individual or dialectical details: in General American, in Cockney, or in Southern US English. Phonemic transcriptions, which express the conceptual counterparts of spoken sounds, are usually enclosed in slashes (/ /) and tend to use simpler letters with few diacritics. The choice of IPA letters may reflect theoretical claims of how speakers conceptualize sounds as phonemes or they may be merely a convenience for typesetting. Phonemic approximations between slashes do not have absolute sound values. For instance, in English, either the vowel of ''pick'' or the vowel of ''peak'' may be transcribed as , so that ''pick'', ''peak'' would be transcribed as or as ; and neither is identical to the vowel of the French ' which is also generally transcribed . By contrast, a narrow phonetic transcription of ''pick'', ''peak'', ''pique'' could be: , , .


IPA is popular for transcription by linguists. Some American linguists, however, use a mix of IPA with Americanist phonetic notation or use some nonstandard symbols for various reasons. Authors who employ such nonstandard use are encouraged to include a chart or other explanation of their choices, which is good practice in general, as linguists differ in their understanding of the exact meaning of IPA symbols and common conventions change over time.



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. 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 for IPA and for IPA , reflecting common representations of those sounds in written English, using only letters of the English Roman alphabet and variations of them. (In IPA, represents the sound of the French (as in '), and represents the pair of sounds in ''graopper''.)

Other languages

The IPA is also not universal among dictionaries in languages other than English. Monolingual dictionaries of languages with 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 alphabet for transcription of foreign words. Bilingual dictionaries that translate from foreign languages into Russian usually employ the IPA, but monolingual Russian dictionaries occasionally use pronunciation respelling for foreign words. 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.

Standard orthographies and case variants

IPA letters have been incorporated into the alphabets of various languages, notably via the Africa Alphabet in many sub-Saharan languages such as Hausa, Fula, Akan, Gbe languages, Manding languages, Lingala, etc. This has created the need for capital variants. For example, Kabiyè of northern Togo has Ɖ ɖ, Ŋ ŋ, Ɣ ɣ, Ɔ ɔ, Ɛ ɛ, Ʋ ʋ. These, and others, are supported by Unicode, but appear in Latin ranges other than the IPA extensions. In the IPA itself, however, 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, but this convention was not included in the 1999 ''Handbook''.

Classical singing

IPA has widespread use among classical singers during preparation as they are frequently required to sing in a variety of foreign languages, in addition to being taught by vocal coach to perfect the diction of their students and to globally improve tone quality and tuning. Opera librettos are authoritatively transcribed in IPA, such as Nico Castel's volumes and Timothy Cheek's book ''Singing in Czech''. Opera singers' ability to read IPA was used by the site ''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".

IPA number

Each character, letter or diacritic, is assigned a number, to prevent confusion between similar characters (such as and , and , or and ) in such situations as the printing of manuscripts. The categories of sounds are assigned different ranges of numbers.


The International Phonetic Association organizes the letters of the IPA into three categories: pulmonic consonants, non-pulmonic consonants, and vowels. 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, two columns are omitted to save space, with the letters listed among 'other symbols', 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 represent articulations that are judged to be impossible. 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'.


Pulmonic consonants

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. 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. Notes * In rows where some letters appear in pairs (the ''obstruents''), the letter to the right represents a voiced consonant (except breathy-voiced ). In the other rows (the ''sonorants''), the single letter represents a voiced consonant. * While IPA provides a single letter for the coronal places of articulation (for all consonants but fricatives), these do not always have to be used exactly. When dealing with a particular language, the letters may be treated as specifically dental, alveolar, or post-alveolar, as appropriate for that language, without diacritics. * Shaded areas indicate articulations judged to be impossible. * The letters represent either voiced fricatives or approximants. * In many languages, such as English, and are not actually glottal, fricatives, or approximants. Rather, they are bare phonation. * It is primarily the shape of the tongue rather than its position that distinguishes the fricatives , , and . * are defined as epiglottal fricatives under the "Other symbols" section in the official IPA chart, but they may be treated as trills at the same place of articulation as because trilling of the aryepiglottic folds typically co-occurs. * Some listed phones are not known to exist as phonemes in any language.

Non-pulmonic consonants

Non-pulmonic consonants are sounds whose airflow is not dependent on the lungs. These include clicks (found in the Khoisan languages and some neighboring Bantu languages of Africa), implosives (found in languages such as Sindhi, Hausa, Swahili and Vietnamese), and ejectives (found in many Amerindian and Caucasian languages). Notes * Clicks have traditionally been described as consisting of a forward place of articulation, commonly called the click 'type' or historically the 'influx', and a rear place of articulation, which when combined with the voicing, aspiration, nasalization, affrication, ejection, timing etc. of the click is commonly called the click 'accompaniment' or historically the 'efflux'. The IPA click letters indicate only the click type (forward articulation and release). Therefore all clicks require two letters for proper notation: ''etc.'', or with the order reversed if both the forward and rear releases are audible. The letter for the rear articulation is frequently omitted, in which case a may usually be assumed. However, some researchers dispute the idea that clicks should be analyzed as doubly articulated, as the traditional transcription implies, and analyze the rear occlusion as solely a part of the airstream mechanism. In transcriptions of such approaches, the click letter represents both places of articulation, with the different letters representing the different click types, and diacritics are used for the elements of the accompaniment: ''etc.'' * Letters for the voiceless implosives are no longer supported by the IPA, though they remain in Unicode. Instead, the IPA typically uses the voiced equivalent with a voiceless diacritic: , ''etc.''. * The letter for the retroflex implosive, , is not "explicitly IPA approved" (''Handbook'', p. 166), but has the expected form if such a symbol were to be approved. * The ejective diacritic is placed at the right-hand margin of the consonant, rather than immediately after the letter for the stop: , . In imprecise transcription, it often stands in for a superscript glottal stop in glottalized but pulmonic sonorants, such as , , , (also transcribable as creaky , , , ).


Affricates and co-articulated stops are represented by two letters joined by a tie bar, either above or below the letters. The six most common affricates are optionally represented by ligatures (ʦ, ʣ, ʧ, ʤ, ʨ, ʥ), though this is no longer official IPA usage, 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 , paralleling ~ . The letters for the palatal plosives and are often used as a convenience for and or similar affricates, even in official IPA publications, so they must be interpreted with care.

Co-articulated consonants

Co-articulated consonants are sounds that involve two simultaneous places of articulation (are pronounced using two parts of the vocal tract). In English, the in "went" is a coarticulated consonant, being pronounced by rounding the lips and raising the back of the tongue. Similar sounds are and . In some languages, plosives can be double-articulated, for example in the name of Laurent Gbagbo. Notes * , the Swedish ''sj''-sound, is described by the IPA as a "simultaneous and ", but it is unlikely such a simultaneous fricative actually exists in any language. * Multiple tie bars can be used: or . For instance, if a prenasalized stop is transcribed , and a doubly articulated stop , then a prenasalized doubly articulated stop would be


The IPA defines a vowel as a sound which occurs at a syllable center. 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, (the first vowel in ''father'') is at the bottom because the tongue is lowered in this position. (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 , the vowel in "met") are to the left in the chart, while those in which it is moved to the back (such as , 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 or , or with a superscript for the on- or off-glide, as in or . Sometimes a tie bar is used, especially if it is difficult to tell if the diphthong is characterized by an on-glide, an off-glide or is variable: . Notes * officially represents a front vowel, but there is little distinction between front and central open vowels, and is frequently used for an open central vowel. If disambiguation is required, the retraction diacritic or the centralized diacritic may be added to indicate an open central vowel, as in or .

Diacritics and prosodic notation

Diacritics are used for phonetic detail. They are added to IPA letters to indicate a modification or specification of that letter's normal pronunciation.International Phonetic Association, ''Handbook'', pp. 14–15. By being made superscript, any IPA letter may function as a diacritic, conferring elements of its articulation to the base letter. (See secondary articulation for a list of superscript IPA letters supported by Unicode.) Those superscript letters listed below are specifically provided for by the IPA; others include ( with fricative release), ( with affricate onset), (prenasalized ), ( with breathy voice), (glottalized ), ( with a flavor of ), ( with diphthongization), (compressed ). Superscript diacritics placed after a letter are ambiguous between simultaneous modification of the sound and phonetic detail at the end of the sound. For example, labialized may mean either simultaneous and or else with a labialized release. Superscript diacritics placed before a letter, on the other hand, normally indicate a modification of the onset of the sound ( glottalized , with a glottal onset). Notes : With aspirated voiced consonants, the aspiration is usually also voiced (voiced aspirated – but see voiced consonants with voiceless aspiration). Many linguists prefer one of the diacritics dedicated to breathy voice over simple aspiration, such as . Some linguists restrict this diacritic to sonorants, and transcribe obstruents as . : These are relative to the cardinal value of the letter. They can also apply to unrounded vowels: is more spread (less rounded) than cardinal , and is less spread than cardinal .
Since can mean that the is labialized (rounded) throughout its articulation, and makes no sense ( is already completely unrounded), can only mean a less-labialized/rounded . However, readers might mistake for "" with a labialized off-glide, or might wonder if the two diacritics cancel each other out. Placing the 'less rounded' diacritic under the labialization diacritic, , makes it clear that it is the labialization that is 'less rounded' than its cardinal IPA value. Subdiacritics (diacritics normally placed below a letter) may be moved above a letter to avoid conflict with a descender, as in voiceless . The raising and lowering diacritics have optional forms , that avoid descenders. 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: Additional diacritics are provided by the Extensions to the IPA for speech pathology.


These symbols describe the features of a language above the level of individual consonants and vowels, that is, at the level of syllable, word or phrase. These include prosody, pitch, length, stress, intensity, tone and gemination of the sounds of a language, as well as the rhythm and intonation of speech.International Phonetic Association, ''Handbook'', p. 13. Various ligatures of pitch/tone letters and diacritics are provided for by the Kiel convention and used in the IPA ''Handbook'' despite not being found in the summary of the IPA alphabet found on the one-page chart. Under capital letters below we will see how a carrier letter may be used to indicate suprasegmental features such as labialization or nasalization. Some authors omit the carrier letter, for e.g. suffixed or prefixed , or place a spacing diacritic such as at the beginning of a word to indicate that the quality applies to the entire word.


Officially, the stress marks appear before the stressed syllable, and thus mark the syllable boundary as well as stress (though the syllable boundary may still be explicitly marked with a period). Occasionally the stress mark is placed immediately before the nucleus of the syllable, after any consonantal onset. In such transcriptions, the stress mark does not mark a syllable boundary. The primary stress mark may be doubled for extra stress (such as prosodic stress). The secondary stress mark is sometimes seen doubled for extra-weak stress, but this convention has not been adopted by the IPA.

Boundary markers

There are three boundary markers: for a syllable break, for a minor prosodic break and for a major prosodic break. The tags 'minor' and 'major' are intentionally ambiguous. Depending on need, 'minor' may vary from a foot break to a break in list-intonation to a continuing–prosodic-unit boundary (equivalent to a comma), and while 'major' is often any intonation break, it may be restricted to a final–prosodic-unit boundary (equivalent to a period). The 'major' symbol may also be doubled, , for a stronger break. Although not part of the IPA, the following additional boundary markers are often used in conjunction with the IPA: for a mora or mora boundary, for a syllable or syllable boundary, for a word boundary, for a phrase or intermediate boundary and for a prosodic boundary. For example, C# is a word-final consonant, %V a post-pausa vowel, and T% an IU-final tone (edge tone).

Pitch and tone

are defined in the ''Handbook'' as upstep and downstep, concepts from tonal languages. However, the 'upstep' could also be used for pitch reset, and the IPA ''Handbook'' illustration for Portuguese uses it for prosody in a non-tonal language. Phonetic pitch and phonemic tone may be indicated by either diacritics placed over the nucleus of the syllable or by Chao tone letters placed before or after the word or syllable. There are three graphic variants of the tone letters: with or without a stave (the latter obsolete), and facing left or facing right from a stave. Theoretically therefore there are seven ways to transcribe pitch/tone in the IPA, though in practice for a high pitch/tone only , , , and obsolete are seen. Only left-facing staved letters and a few representative combinations are shown in the summary on the ''Chart'', and in practice it is currently more common for tone letters to occur after the syllable/word than before, as in the Chao tradition. Placement before the word is a carry-over from the pre-Kiel IPA convention, as is still the case for the stress and upstep/downstep marks. The IPA endorses the Chao tradition of using the left-facing tone letters, , for broad or underlying tone, and the right-facing letters, , for surface tone or phonetic detail, as in tone sandhi. In the Portuguese illustration in the 1999 ''Handbook'', tone letters are placed before a word or syllable to indicate prosodic pitch (equivalent to global rise and global fall, but allowing more than a two-way contrast), and in the Cantonese illustration they are placed after a word/syllable to indicate lexical tone. Theoretically therefore prosodic pitch and lexical tone could be simultaneously transcribed in a single text, though this is not a formalized distinction. Rising and falling pitch, as in contour tones, are indicated by combining the pitch diacritics and letters in the table, such as grave plus acute for rising and acute plus grave for falling . Only six combinations of two diacritics are supported, and only across three levels (high, mid, low), despite the diacritics supporting five levels of pitch in isolation. The four other explicitly approved rising and falling diacritic combinations are high/mid rising , low rising , high falling , and low/mid falling . The Chao tone letters, on the other hand, may be combined in any pattern, and are therefore used for more complex contours and finer distinctions than the diacritics allow, such as mid-rising , extra-high falling , etc. There are 20 such possibilities. However, in Chao's original proposal, which was adopted by the IPA in 1989, he stipulated that the half-high and half-low letters may be combined with each other, but not with the other three tone letters, so as not to create spuriously precise distinctions. With this restriction, there are 8 possibilities. The correspondence between tone diacritics and tone letters therefore breaks down once they start combining. For more complex tones, one may combine three or four tone diacritics in any permutation,P.J. Roach, Report on the 1989 Kiel Convention, ''Journal of the International Phonetic Association'', Vol. 19, No. 2 (December 1989), p. 75–76 though in practice only generic peaking (rising-falling) and dipping (falling-rising) combinations are used. Chao tone letters are required for finer detail (, etc.). Although only 10 peaking and dipping tones were proposed in Chao's original, limited set of tone letters, phoneticians often make finer distinctions, and indeed an example is found on the IPA Chart. The system allows the transcription of 112 peaking and dipping pitch contours, including tones that are level for part of their length. More complex contours are possible. Chao give an example of (mid-high-low-mid) from English prosody. Chao tone letters generally appear after each syllable, for a language with syllable tone (), or after the phonological word, for a language with word tone (). The IPA gives the option of placing the tone letters before the word or syllable (, ), but this is rare for lexical tone. (And indeed reversed tone letters may be used to clarify that they apply to the following rather than to the preceding syllable: , .) The staveless letters are effectively obsolete and are not supported by Unicode. They were not widely accepted even before 1989 when they were the sole option for indicating pitch in the IPA, and they only ever supported three pitch levels and a few contours.

Comparative degree

IPA diacritics may be doubled to indicate an extra degree of the feature indicated.Kelly & Local (1989) ''Doing Phonology'', Manchester University Press. This is a productive process, but apart from extra-high and extra-low tones being marked by doubled high- and low-tone diacritics, and the major prosodic break being marked as a double minor break , it is not specifically regulated by the IPA. (Note that transcription marks are similar: double slashes indicate extra (morpho)-phonemic, double square brackets especially precise, and double parentheses especially unintelligible.) For example, the stress mark may be doubled to indicate an extra degree of stress, such as prosodic stress in English. 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:
''.'' Similarly, a doubled secondary stress mark is commonly used for tertiary (extra-light) stress. In a similar vein, the effectively obsolete (though still official) staveless tone letters were once doubled for an emphatic rising intonation and an emphatic falling intonation . Length is commonly extended by repeating the length mark, as in English ''shhh!'' , or for "overlong" segments in Estonian: * ''vere'' 'blood en.sg., ''veere'' 'edge en.sg., ''veere'' 'roll mp. 2nd sg. * ''lina'' 'sheet', ''linna'' 'town en. sg., ''linna'' 'town ne. sg. (Normally additional degrees of length are handled by the extra-short or half-long diacritic, but the first two words in each of the Estonian examples are analyzed as simply short and long, requiring a different remedy for the final words.) Occasionally other diacritics are doubled: * Rhoticity in Badaga "mouth", "bangle", and "crop". * Mild and strong aspirations, , . * Nasalization, as in Palantla Chinantec lightly nasalized vs heavily nasalized , though in extIPA the latter indicates velopharyngeal frication. * Weak vs strong ejectives, , . * Especially lowered, e.g. (or , if the former symbol does not display properly) for as a weak fricative in some pronunciations of ''register''. * Especially retracted, e.g. or , though some care might be needed to distinguish this from indications of alveolar or alveolarized articulation in extIPA, e.g. . * The transcription of strident and harsh voice as extra-creaky may be motivated by the similarities of these phonations.

Ambiguous characters

A number of IPA characters are not consistently used for their official values. A distinction between voiced fricatives and approximants is only partially implemented, for example. Even with the relatively recent addition of the palatal fricative and the velar approximant to the alphabet, other letters, though defined as fricatives, are often ambiguous between fricative and approximant. For forward places, and can generally be assumed to be fricatives unless they carry a lowering diacritic. Rearward, however, and are perhaps more commonly intended to be approximants even without a lowering diacritic. and are similarly either fricatives or approximants, depending on the language, or even glottal "transitions", without that often being specified in the transcription. Another common ambiguity is among the palatal consonants. and are not uncommonly used as a typographic convenience for affricates, typically something like and , while and are commonly used for palatalized alveolar and . To some extent this may be an effect of analysis, but it is often common for people to match up available letters to the sounds of a language, without overly worrying whether they are phonetically accurate. It has been argued that the lower-pharyngeal (epiglottal) fricatives and are better characterized as trills, rather than as fricatives that have incidental trilling. This has the advantage of merging the upper-pharyngeal fricatives together with the epiglottal plosive and trills into a single pharyngeal column in the consonant chart. However, in Shilha Berber the epiglottal fricatives are not trilled. Although they might be transcribed to indicate this, the far more common transcription is , which is therefore ambiguous between languages. Among vowels, is officially a front vowel, but is more commonly treated as a central vowel. The difference, to the extent it is even possible, is not phonemic in any language. Three letters are not needed, but are retained due to inertia and would be hard to justify today by the standards of the modern IPA. appears because it is found in English; officially it's a fricative, with terminology dating to the days before 'fricative' and 'approximant' were distinguished. Based on how all other fricatives and approximants are transcribed, one would expect either for a fricative (not how it's actually used) or for an approximant. Indeed, outside of English transcription, that is what is more commonly found in the literature. is another historic remnant. It is only distinct in a single language, a fact that was discovered after it was standardized in the IPA. A number of consonants without dedicated IPA letters are found in many more languages than that; is retained because of its historical use for European languages, where it could easily be normalized to . There have been several votes to retire from the IPA, but so far they have failed. Finally, is officially a simultaneous postalveolar and velar fricative, a realization that doesn't appear to exist in any language. It is retained because it is convenient for the transcription of Swedish, where it is used for a consonant that has various realizations in different dialects. That is, it isn't actually a phonetic character at all, but a phonemic one, which is officially beyond the purview of the IPA alphabet. For all phonetic notation, it is good practice for an author to specify exactly what they mean by the symbols that they use.

Obsolete and nonstandard symbols

A number of IPA letters and diacritics have been retired or replaced over the years. This number includes duplicate symbols, symbols that were replaced due to user preference, and unitary symbols that were rendered with diacritics or digraphs to reduce the inventory of the IPA. The rejected symbols are now considered obsolete, though some are still seen in the literature. The IPA once had several pairs of duplicate symbols from alternative proposals, but eventually settled on one or the other. An example is the vowel letter , rejected in favor of . Affricates were once transcribed with ligatures, such as (and others not found in Unicode). These have been officially retired but are still used. Letters for specific combinations of primary and secondary articulation have also been mostly retired, with the idea that such features should be indicated with tie bars or diacritics: for is one. In addition, the rare voiceless implosives, , were dropped soon after their introduction and are now usually written . The original set of click letters, , was retired but is still sometimes seen, as the current pipe letters can cause problems with legibility, especially when used with brackets (or / /), the letter , or the prosodic marks . (For this reason, some publications which use the current IPA pipe letters disallow IPA brackets.) Individual non-IPA letters may find their way into publications that otherwise use the standard IPA. This is especially common with: * Affricates, such as the Americanist barred lambda for or for . * The Karlgren letters for Chinese vowels, * Digits for tonal phonemes that have conventional numbers in a local tradition, such as the four tones of Standard Chinese. This may be more convenient for comparison between related languages and dialects than a phonetic transcription would be, because tones vary more unpredictably than segmental phonemes do. * Digits for tone levels, which are simpler to typeset, though the lack of standardization can cause confusion (e.g. is high tone in some languages but low tone in others; may be high, medium or low tone, depending on the local convention). * Iconic extensions of standard IPA letters that can be readily understood, such as retroflex and . These are referred to in the ''Handbook'' and have been included in IPA requests for Unicode support. In addition, it is common to see ''ad hoc'' typewriter substitutions, generally capital letters, for when IPA support is not available, e.g. A for , B for or , D for , or , E for , F or P for , G , I , L , N , O , S , T or , U , V , X , Z , as well as @ for and 7 or ? for .


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 Kiel Convention in 1989, a group of linguists drew up the initial extensions, which were based on the previous work of the PRDS (Phonetic Representation of Disordered Speech) Group in the early 1980s. 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. While the original purpose was to transcribe disordered speech, linguists have used the extensions to designate a number of sounds within standard communication, such as hushing, gnashing teeth, and smacking lips, as well as regular lexical sounds such as lateral fricatives that do not have standard IPA symbols. In addition to the Extensions to the IPA for disordered speech, there are the conventions of the Voice Quality Symbols, which include a number of symbols for additional airstream mechanisms and secondary articulations in what they call "voice quality".

Associated notation

Capital letters and various characters on the number row of the keyboard are not part of the IPA alphabet, but are commonly used to extend the alphabet in various ways.

Associated symbols

There are various punctuation-like conventions for linguistic transcription that are commonly used together with IPA. Some of the more common are: (a) A reconstructed form. :(b) An ungrammatical or unphonemic form. A reconstructed form, deeper (more ancient) than a single , as when reconstructed from single-starred forms. An ungrammatical form. A less common convention than , this is sometimes used when reconstructed and ungrammatical forms occur in the same text. A doubtfully grammatical form. A generalized form, such as a typical shape of a wanderwort that has not actually been reconstructed. A word boundary – e.g. for a word-initial vowel. A phonological word boundary; e.g. for a high tone that occurs in such a position.

Full capital letters are not used as IPA symbols, except as typewriter substitutes. They are, however, often used in conjunction with the IPA in two cases: # for archiphonemes and for natural classes of sounds (that is, as wildcards). The extIPA chart, for example, uses wildcards in its illustrations. # as Voice Quality Symbols. Wildcards are commonly used in phonology to summarize syllable or word shapes, or to show the evolution of classes of sounds. For example, the possible syllable shapes of Mandarin can be abstracted as ranging from (an atonic vowel) to (a consonant-glide-vowel-nasal syllable with tone), and word-final devoicing may be schematicized as → /_#. In speech pathology, capital letters represent indeterminate sounds, and may be superscripted to indicate they are weakly articulated: e.g. is a weak indeterminate alveolar, a weak indeterminate velar. There is a degree of variation between authors as to the capital letters used, but for , for and for are ubiquitous. Other common conventions are for (tonicity), for , for , for , for , for or , for or , for , for and for , respectively, and for any sound. The letters can be modified with IPA diacritics, for example for , for , or for , for , for , for , for , for , for and for . , , are also commonly used for high, mid and low tone, with (occasionally 'falling'), (occasionally 'rising'), etc., rather than transcribing them overly precisely with IPA tone letters or with digits. Typical examples of archiphonemic use of capital letters are for the Turkish harmonic vowel set , for the conflated flapped middle consonant of American English ''writer'' and ''rider'', and for the homorganic syllable-coda nasal of languages such as Spanish and Japanese (essentially equivalent to the wild-card usage of the letter). , and have completely different meanings as Voice Quality Symbols, where they stand for "voice" (though generally meaning secondary articulation, as in a 'nasal voice', rather than phonetic voicing), "falsetto" and "creak". They may also take diacritics that indicate what kind of voice quality an utterance has, and may be used to extract a suprasegmental feature that occurs on all susceptible segments in a stretch of IPA. For instance, the transcription of Scottish Gaelic 'cat' and 'cats' (Islay dialect) can be made more economical by extracting the suprasegmental labialization of the words: and . The usual wildcard X or C might be used instead (Xʷ..for all segments labialized, Cʷ..for consonants labialized), or omitted altogether. (See #Suprasegmentals for common conventions.)

Segments without letters

The 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 and the retroflex clicks (having the expected forms of and plus a retroflex tail; the analogous for a retroflex implosive is even mentioned in the IPA ''Handbook''), the voiceless lateral fricatives (now provided for by the extIPA), the epiglottal trill (arguably covered by the generally-trilled epiglottal "fricatives" ), the labiodental plosives ( in some old Bantuist texts) and the near-close central vowels ( in some publications). Diacritics can duplicate some of those, such as for the lateral flap, for the labiodental plosives and for the central vowels, and are able to fill in most of the remainder of the charts. If a sound cannot be transcribed, an asterisk may be used, either as a letter or as a diacritic (as in 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, and respectively. Similarly, voiced lateral fricatives would be written as raised lateral approximants, . 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, . Similarly, a labiodental trill would be written (bilabial trill and the dental sign), and labiodental stops 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. , though in some cases the diacritic would need to be written below the letter. A retroflex trill can be written as a retracted , just as non-subapical retroflex fricatives sometimes are. The remaining consonants, the uvular laterals ( ''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. For example, the unrounded equivalent of can be transcribed as mid-centered , and the rounded equivalent of as raised or lowered (though for those who conceive of vowel space as a triangle, simple already is the rounded equivalent of ). True mid vowels are lowered or raised , while centered and (or, less commonly, ) 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 protruded and compressed (or protruded and compressed ).

Symbol names

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. 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 "epsilon", but Unicode calls it "small letter open E". The traditional names of the Latin and Greek letters are usually used for unmodified letters. For example, is called "Lower-case P" and is "Chi." (International Phonetic Association, ''Handbook'', p. 171) Letters which are not directly derived from these alphabets, such as , may have a variety of names, sometimes based on the appearance of the symbol or 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, 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''. Geoffrey Pullum and William 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 in their ''Phonetic Symbol Guide''.

Computer support



IPA typeface support is increasing, and nearly complete IPA support with good diacritic rendering is provided by a few typefaces that come pre-installed with various computer operating systems, such as Calibri, as well as some freely available but commercial fonts such as Brill, but most pre-installed fonts, such as the ubiquitous Arial, Noto Sans and Times New Roman, are neither complete nor render many diacritics properly. Typefaces that provide nearly full IPA support, properly render diacritics and are freely available include: *Gentium Plus *Charis SIL *Doulos SIL *Andika Free typefaces that provide good IPA support, but don't handle combinations of diacritics or tone letters well, include: *Linux Biolinum Web browsers generally do not need any configuration to display IPA characters, provided that a typeface capable of doing so is available to the operating system.

ASCII and keyboard transliterations

Several systems have been developed that map the IPA symbols to ASCII characters. Notable systems include 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.

Computer input using on-screen keyboard

Online IPA keyboard utilities are available, and they cover the complete range of IPA symbols and diacritics. In April 2019, Google's Gboard for Android added an IPA keyboard to its platform. For iOS there are multiple free keyboard layouts available, e.g. "IPA Phonetic Keyboard".

See also

* Americanist phonetic notation * Arabic International Phonetic Alphabet * Articulatory phonetics * Case variants of IPA letters * Cursive forms of the International Phonetic Alphabet * Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet * Index of phonetics articles * International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration * International Phonetic Alphabet chart for English dialects * List of international common standards * Luciano Canepari – proponent of an elaborated IPA * NATO phonetic alphabet * Phonetic symbols in Unicode * SAMPA – 7-bit ASCII language-specific version of IPA. * Semyon Novgorodov – inventor of IPA-based Yakut scripts * TIPA provides IPA support for LaTeX * Uralic phonetic alphabet * Voice Quality Symbols * X-SAMPA – 7-bit ASCII version of IPA.



Further reading

* * * * * (hb); (pb). * * * * (hb); (pb). * * *

External links

Interactive IPA chart
{{Authority control Category:Phonetic guides Category:Unicode