IPA symbols

THE International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is the standardised system of phonetic notation to represent the sounds of the oral language. It is a way of making speech ‘visible.’ It is in reality a pedagogical tool for linguistic analysis of oral forms of a language and not a pronunciation learning aid, as it has always been supposed or made out to be.

FULL STORY:— Primer: The IPA

Our policy

Learn English or Starve uses both phonetic respelling and IPA whenever possible. Failing that, we just make do with newspaper-style Jill-in-Hall pronunciation respelling because, honestly speaking, most people find that is good enough.

This is a blog — not a flippin’ linguistics textbook or dictionary. Wake up!


The IPA character set

The IPA is based chiefly on the Latin alphabet, therefore inheriting any limitations from that.

Generic IPA set

Below is a generic IPA set for English (Received Pronunciation and similar accents):—

(via UCL)

Depending on the precision required (and also on the language for use in), sounds are variously notated by—

  • either a single letter [t]
  • or letter + diacritics — small symbols placed around letters [t̺ʰ]
  • or non-alphabetic symbols — [ʃ] for sh, [ð] for th

Official IPA set

Owing to copyright reasons, the official IPA chart is available only off-site:—

The International Phonetic Alphabet (revised to 2005)
© 2005 The International Phonetic Association

The human sound articulators (via SIL)

Wikipedia IPA set

Wikipedia has an even fuller version of the IPA (rearranging the official IPA chart for clarity). It includes labiodental flap and other ad hoc symbols found in the phonetics/linguistics literature.

Expanded Wikipedia version of the official IPA


Comparison with other systems

The IPA is designed to be a phonetic transcription that attempts to objectively capture the actual pronunciation of a word.

Our official position is that no goddamn transcription system can do that.

The only way to do that is to give them an audio file. That is the most accurate. Where is your god now?

From the text conversions below, we get an immediate sense of the relative ‘obviousness’ of the various transcriptions and respelling system to help a person infer pronunciation.

Canonical spelling:
Our official position is that no goddamn transcription system can do that. The only way to do that is to give them an audio file. That is the most accurate. Where is your god now?

In dictionary respelling:
Ow’r efish’el pezishen iz thet no goddam tran-skrip’shen sis’tem ken doo that. The on’le wai to doo that iz to giv them an o’de-0 fIl. That iz the most ak’yoor-it. Hwer iz yor god now?

In newspaper respelling:
Our orf-fishull po-sishun is that no god-dam tran-scrip-shun sistem ken do that. The ownlee way to do that is to give them an awe-dio file. That is the most ack-you-ret. Where is yor god now?

In lolcat/lolspeak:
R offishul posishun iz dat no ceilin cat F&^% tranzkripshun sistam kan do dat. Teh only wai 2 do dat iz 2 giv dem an audio file. Dat iz teh most akrit. Wer iz ur ceilin cat nao?

ɑr əˈfɪʃəl pəˈzɪʃən ˈɪz ˈðæt ˈnoʊ ˈgɑd ˈdæm fəˈnetɪk trænˈskrɪpʃən ˈsɪstəm kən ˈduː ˈðæt. ðiː ˈoʊnliː ˈweɪ tə ˈduː ˈðæt ˈɪz tə ˈgɪv (ð)əm ən ˈɔdiːˌoʊ fəˈleɪ. ˈðæt ˈɪz ðə ˈmoʊst ˈækjərət. ˈwer ˈɪz jər ˈgɑd ˈnæʊ?

Draw your own conclusions as to whether the IPA is in reality an alphabet-looking notation system for linguistic analysis or a pronunciation aid, or something else.



English Phonetic Transcription Converter | Project Modelino

A straightforward free online converter from normal English into generic IPA. Maximum 700 words for unregistered (guest) users.

PhoTransEdit – English Phonetic Transcription Editor | PhoTransEdit.com

Another free online converter that outputs a choice of Received Pronunciation (BrE) or General American (AmE) transcription. Max. 300 characters (not words).

Learn to speak lolcat: the lolcat translator | speaklolcat.com

Learn to speak lolcat — the language of all animals, not just cats, dogs, kittens and puppies. Communicate with your pet dog or cat. Docta dolittle eat ur hart out!


© Learn English or Starve, 14 August 2015.

Changelog (B12219):
Updated 13 July 2015 (link updates)
Updated 14 Aug 2015 (remade into separate page)

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