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Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a system of phonetic notation devised by linguists to accurately and uniquely represent each of the wide variety of sounds (phones or phonemes) used in spoken human language. It is intended as a notational standard for the phonemic and phonetic representation of all spoken languages.

For a treatment of the English language using the IPA, see International Phonetic Alphabet for English; for a brief chart, see IPA chart for English.

The International Phonetic Alphabet.


Main article: History of the International Phonetic Alphabet

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Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech


The general principle of the IPA is to provide a separate symbol for each speech segment, avoiding letter combinations (digraphs) such as sh and th in English orthography, and avoiding ambiguity such as that of c in English.

The principle of formation

The IPA is what MacMahon (1996) has termed a "selective" phonetic alphabet. It aims to provide a separate symbol for every contrastive (that is, phonemic) sound occurring in human language. For instance, a flap and a tap are two different articulations, but since no language has (yet) been found to make a phonemic distinction between them, the IPA does not provide them with dedicated symbols. Instead, it provides a single symbol, ɾ, that covers both. For non-contrastive (that is, phonetic or subphonemic) details of these sounds, the IPA relies on diacritics, which are optional. Thus there is a certain level of flexibility in representing a language with the IPA.

Principles behind the symbols

The letters chosen for the IPA are generally drawn from the Latin and Greek alphabets, or are modifications of Latin or Greek letters. There are also a few letters derived from Latin punctuation, such as the glottal stop ʔ (originally an apostrophe, but later given the form of a "gelded" question mark to have the visual impact of the other consonants), and one, ʕ, although Latin in form, was inspired by Arabic letter <ﻉ> `ain. On the other hand, the original Latin-derived symbols for the clicks have been abandoned in favor of iconic Khoisanist symbols such as ǁ.

The sound-values of the consonants taken from the Latin alphabet correspond to usage in French and Italian, and are close to those of most other European languages as well: [b], [d], [f], [ɡ], [k], [l], [m], [n], [p], (unvoiced) [s], [t], [v], [z]. English values are used for [h] and [w].

The vowels from the Latin alphabet ([a], [e], [i], [o], [u]) correspond to the vowels of Spanish and are similar to Italian. [i] is like the vowel in piece, [u] like rule, etc.

The other symbols from the Latin alphabet, [c], [j], [q], [r], [x], and [y], correspond to sounds these letters represent in various other languages. [j] has the Slavic and Germanic value of <j>, that of English y in yoke; [y] has the Scandinavian and Old English value: Finnish y, German y or ü, French u, Dutch u.

Letters that share a particular modification sometimes correspond to a similar type of sound. For example, all the retroflex consonants have the same symbol as the equivalent alveolar consonant, with the addition of a rightward facing hook at the bottom. Although there is some correspondence between modified letters, generally the IPA symbols do not have a systematic featural relationship between shape and articulation. For instance, there is not a consistent relationship between lowercase letters and their small capital counterparts, nor are all labial consonants linked through a common design.

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.

Types of transcriptions

The International Phonetic Association recommends that a phonetic transcription should be enclosed in square brackets "[ ]". A transcription that specifically denotes only phonological contrasts may be enclosed in slashes "/ /" instead. If one is in doubt, it is best to use brackets, for by setting off a transcription with slashes one makes a theoretical claim that every symbol within is phonemically contrastive for the language being transcribed.

Phonetic transcriptions try to objectively capture the actual pronunciation of a word, whereas phonemic transcriptions are model dependent. For example, Noam Chomsky transcribed the English word night phonemically as /nixt/. In his model, the phoneme /x/ is often silent, but shows its presence by “lengthening” the preceding vowel. The preceding vowel in this case is the phoneme /i/, which is pronounced [aj] when long. So phonemic /nixt/ is equivalent to phonetic [najt], but only if you share Chomsky's belief that historical sounds such as the gh in night may remain in a word long after they have ceased to be pronounced.

For phonetic transcriptions, there is flexibility in how closely sounds may be transcribed. A transcription that gives only a basic idea of the sounds of a language in the broadest terms is called a "broad transcription"; in some cases this may be equivalent to a phonemic transcription (only without any theoretical claims). A close transcription, indicating precise details of the sounds, is called a "narrow transcription". These are not binary choices, but the ends of a continuum, with many possibilities in between. All are enclosed in brackets.

For example, in some dialects the English word pretzel in a narrow transcription would be [ˈpʰɹ̥ʷɛʔt.sɫ̩], which notes several phonetic features that may not be evident even to a native speaker. An example of a broader transcription is [ˈpʰɹɛt.sɫ̩], which only indicates some of the easier to hear features. A yet broader transcription would be [ˈpɹɛtsl]. Here every symbol represents an unambiguous speech sound, but without making any claims as to their status in the language.

There are also several possibilities in how to transcribe this word phonemically, but here the differences are generally not of precision, but of analysis. For example, pretzel could be /ˈprɛtsl/ or /ˈpretsəl/. The special symbol for English r is not used, for it is not meaningful to distinguish it from a rolled r. The differences in the letter e reflect claims as to what the essential difference is between the vowels of pretzel and pray; there are half a dozen ideas in the literature as to what this may be. The second transcription claims that there are two vowels in the word, even if they can't both be heard, while the first claims there is only one.

However, phonemic transcriptions may also be broad or narrow, or perhaps it would be better to say abstract vs. concrete. They may show a fair amount of phonetic detail, usually of a phoneme's most common allophone, but because they are abstract symbols they do not need to directly resemble any sound at all. Phonemic symbols will frequently be chosen to avoid diacritics as much as possible, under a 'one sound one symbol' policy, or may even be restricted to the ASCII symbols of a typical keyboard. For example, the English word church may be transcribed as /tʃɚtʃ/, a close approximation of its actual pronunciation, or more abstractly as /crc/ (three phonemes, three symbols), which is easier to type. Phonemic symbols should always be explained, especially when they are as divergent from actual pronunciation as /crc/.

Occasionally a transcription will be enclosed in pipes ("| |"). This goes beyond phonology into morphological analysis. For example, the words pets and beds could be transcribed phonetically as [pʰɛʔts] and [b̥ɛdz] (in a fairly narrow transcription), and phonemically as /pets/ and /bedz/. Because /s/ and /z/ are separate phonemes in English (unlike Spanish, for example), they receive separate symbols in the phonemic analysis. However, you probably recognize that underneath this, they represent the same plural ending. This can be indicated with the pipe notation. If you believe the plural ending is essentially an s, as English spelling would suggest, the words can be transcribed |pets| and |beds|. If, as most linguists would probably suggest, it is essentially a z, these would be |petz| and |bedz|.

To avoid confusion with IPA symbols, it may be desirable to specify when native orthography is being used, so that, for example, the English word jet is not read as "yet". This is done with angle brackets or chevrons: 〈jet〉. It is also common to italicize such words, but the chevrons indicate specifically that they are in the original language's orthography, and not in English transliteration.

The Extended IPA for speech pathology has added additional bracket notations. Parentheses are used to indicate mouthing (silent articulation), as in (ʃːː), a silent sign to hush; parentheses are also used to indicate silent pauses, for example (...). Double parentheses indicate obscured or unintelligible sound, as in ((2 syll.)), two audible but unidentifiable syllables. Curly brackets with Italian musical terms are used to mark prosodic notation, such as [{falsetto hɛlp falsetto}].

Consonants (pulmonic)

Single articulation

Closeup of the main pulmonic consonant section of the IPA chart

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

Place of articulation Labial Coronal Dorsal Radical (none)
Manner of articulation Bi­la­bial La­bio‐
Den­tal Al­veo­lar Post‐
Pa­la­tal Ve­lar Uvu­lar Pha­ryn‐
Nasal    m    ɱ    n    ɳ    ɲ    ŋ    ɴ  
Plosive p b * * t d ʈ ɖ c ɟ k ɡ q ɢ   ʡ ʔ  
Fricative ɸ β f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ ʂ ʐ ç ʝ x ɣ χ ʁ ħ ʕ ʜ ʢ h ɦ
Approx­imant    β̞    ʋ    ɹ    ɻ    j    ɰ      
Trill    ʙ    r    *    ʀ    *  
Tap or Flap    *    Labiodental flap    ɾ    ɽ          *  
Lateral Fricative ɬ ɮ *    *    *       
Lateral Approx­imant    l    ɭ    ʎ    ʟ  
Lateral Flap      ɺ    *    *    *    


  • Asterisks (*) mark reported sounds that do not (yet) have official IPA symbols. See the articles for ad hoc symbols found in the literature.
  • Daggers (†) mark IPA symbols that do not yet have official Unicode support. Since May 2005, this is the case of the labiodental flap, symbolized by a right-hook v: Labiodental flap (Proposal to add this symbol to Unicode)
  • In rows where some symbols appear in pairs (the obstruents), the symbol to the right represents a voiced consonant (except for breathy-voiced [ɦ]). However, [ʔ] cannot be voiced. In the other rows (the sonorants), the single symbol represents a voiced consonant.
  • Although there is a single symbol for the coronal places of articulation for all consonants but fricatives, when dealing with a particular language, the symbols are treated as specifically alveolar, post-alveolar, etc., as appropriate for that language.
  • Shaded areas indicate articulations judged to be impossible.
  • The symbols [ʁ, ʕ, ʢ] represent either voiced fricatives or approximants.
  • It is primarily the shape of the tongue rather than its position that distinguishes the fricatives [ʃ ʒ], [ɕ ʑ], and [ʂ ʐ].
  • The labiodental nasal [ɱ] is not known to exist as a phoneme in any language.


Closeup of the co-articulated consonant section of the IPA chart

ʍ Voiceless labialized velar approximant
w Voiced labialized velar approximant
ɥ Voiced labialized palatal approximant
ɕ Voiceless palatalized postalveolar (alveolo-palatal) fricative
ʑ Voiced palatalized postalveolar (alveolo-palatal) fricative
ɧ Voiceless "palatal-velar" fricative


  • [ɧ] is described as a "simultaneous [ʃ] and [x]". However, this analysis is disputed. See the article for discussion.

Consonants (non-pulmonic)

Closeup of the non-pulmonic consonant section of the IPA chart

Click releases Implosives Ejectives
ʘ Bilabial ɓ Bilabial ʼ For example:
ǀ Laminal alveolar ("dental") ɗ Alveolar Bilabial
ǃ Apical (post-) alveolar ("retroflex") ʄ Palatal Alveolar
ǂ Laminal postalveolar ("palatal") ɠ Velar Velar
ǁ Lateral coronal ("lateral") ʛ Uvular Alveolar fricative


  • All clicks are doubly articulated and require two symbols: a velar or uvular stop, plus a symbol for the anterior release: [k͡ǂ, ɡ͡ǂ, ŋ͡ǂ, q͡ǂ, ɢ͡ǂ, ɴ͡ǂ] etc., or [ǂ͡k, ǂ͡ɡ, ǂ͡ŋ, ǂ͡q, ǂ͡ɢ, ǂ͡ɴ]. When the dorsal articulation is omitted, a [k] may usually be assumed.
  • Symbols for the voiceless implosives [ƥ, ƭ, ƈ, ƙ, ʠ] are no longer supported by the IPA, though they remain in Unicode. Instead, the IPA uses the voiced equivalent with a voiceless diacritic: [ɓ̥, ʛ̥], etc.
  • Although not confirmed from any language, and therefore not "explicitly recognized" by the IPA, a retroflex implosive, [ᶑ], is supported in the Unicode Phonetic Extensions Supplement, added in version 4.1 of the Unicode Standard, or can be created as a composite [ɗ̢].
  • The ejective symbol is often seen for glottalized but pulmonic sonorants, such as [mʼ], [lʼ], [wʼ], [aʼ], but these are more properly transcribed as creaky ([m̰], [l̰], [w̰], [a̰]).

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Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech


Closeup of the vowel chart of the IPA

Edit - Front N.-front Central N.-back Back
Blank vowel trapezoid.png
i • y
ɨ • ʉ
ɯ • u
ɪ • ʏ
• ʊ
e • ø
ɘ • ɵ
ɤ • o
ɛ • œ
ɜ • ɞ
ʌ • ɔ
a • ɶ
ɑ • ɒ


  • Where symbols appear in pairs, the one to the right represents a rounded vowel, as does [ʊ] (at least prototypically). All others are unrounded.
  • [ɶ] is not confirmed as a distinct phoneme in any language.
  • [a] is officially a front vowel, but there is little distinction between front and central open vowels, and [a] is frequently used for an open central vowel.

Affricates and double articulation

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

Image of the six common affricate ligatures and their official IPA equivalents

Tie bar Ligature Description
t͡s ʦ voiceless alveolar affricate
d͡z ʣ voiced alveolar affricate
t͡ʃ ʧ voiceless postalveolar affricate
d͡ʒ ʤ voiced postalveolar affricate
t͡ɕ ʨ voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate
d͡ʑ ʥ voiced alveolo-palatal affricate
t͡ɬ  – voiceless alveolar lateral affricate
k͡p  – voiceless labial-velar plosive
ɡ͡b  – voiced labial-velar plosive
ŋ͡m  – labial-velar nasal stop


  • If your browser uses Arial Unicode MS to display IPA characters, the following incorrectly formed sequences may look better due to a bug in that font: ts͡, tʃ͡, tɕ͡, dz͡, dʒ͡, dʑ͡, tɬ͡, kp͡, ɡb͡, ŋm͡.

Extended IPA

The Extended IPA was designed for disordered speech. However, some of the symbols (especially diacritics, below) are occasionally used for transcribing normal speech as well.

View a pdf file here.

ʩ Velopharyngeal fricative (often occurs with a cleft palate)
ʪ Voiceless central-plus-lateral alveolar fricative, [ɬ͡s] (a lisp)
ʫ Voiced central-plus-lateral alveolar fricative, [ɮ͡z] (a lisp)
ʬ Bilabial percussive (smacking lips)
ʭ Bidental percussive (gnashing teeth)
¡ Sublaminal lower alveolar click (sucking tongue)

The last symbol may be used with the alveolar click for [ǃ¡], a combined alveolar and sublaminal click or "cluck-click".


Closeup of the suprasegmental section of the IPA chart

ˈ Primary stress
ˌ Secondary stress
ː Long (long vowel or geminate consonant)
ˑ Half-long
˘ Extra-short
. Syllable break
Linking (absence of a break)


| Minor (foot) break
Major (intonation) break
Global rise
Global fall


IPA allows for the use of either tone diacritics or tone letters to indicate tones.

e̋ or ˥ Extra high
é or ˦ High
ē or ˧ Mid
è or ˨ Low
ȅ or ˩ Extra low
ě Rise
ê Fall
e Downstep
e Upstep


  • With regard to tone diacritics, Unicode encodes marks for some contour tones, but not all. In Unicode version 4.1, only hacek (rising) and circumflex (falling) diacritics were encoded. Subsequent versions may also include six additional diacritics for contour tones, such as the macron-acute and the grave-acute-grave ligatures. (See an image here.) Note that contour tone diacritics are not encoded as sequences of level tone diacritics in Unicode.
  • With regard to tone letters, Unicode does not have separate encodings for contour tones. Instead, sequences of level tone letters are used, with proper display dependent on the font, usually by means of OpenType font rendition: [˥˩] or [˦˥˧]. (These are probably not displaying correctly in your browser. See the image for a sample of how they should appear.) Since few fonts support combination tone letters (see the external links for one that is free), a common solution is to use the old system of superscript numerals from '1' to '5', for example [e53, e312]. However, this depends on local linguistic tradition, with '5' generally being high and '1' being low for Asian languages, but '1' being high and '5' low for African languages. An old IPA convention sometimes still seen is to use sub-diacritics for low contour tones: [e̖, e̗] for low-falling and low-rising.
  • The upstep and downstep modifiers are superscript arrows. Unicode version 4.1 does not encode these, though subsequent versions will. The arrows for upstep and downstep should not be confused with the full-height arrows, which are used to indicate airflow direction.


Closeup of the diacritic section of the IPA chart
Sub-diacritics may be placed above a symbol with a descender, i.e. ŋ̊. The dotless i, <ı>, is used when the dot would interfere with the diacritic. Other IPA symbols may appear as diacritics to represent phonetic detail: (fricative release), (breathy voice), ˀa (glottal onset), (epenthetic schwa), oʊ (diphthongization).

Syllabicity diacritics
ɹ̩ n̩ Syllabic e̯ ʊ̯ Non-syllabic
Consonant-release diacritics
tʰ dʰ Aspirated 2 No audible release
dⁿ Nasal release Lateral release
Phonation diacritics
n̥ d̥ Voiceless s̬ t̬ Voiced
b̤ a̤ Breathy voiced 1 b̰ a̰ Creaky voiced
Articulation diacritics
t̪ d̪ Dental t̼ d̼ Linguolabial
t̺ d̺ Apical t̻ d̻ Laminal
u̟ t̟ Advanced i̠ t̠ Retracted
ë ä Centralized e̽ ɯ̽ Mid-centralized
e̝ ɹ̝ ˔ Raised (ɹ̝ = voiced alveolar nonsibilant fricative)
e̞ β̞ ˕ Lowered (β̞ = bilabial approximant)
Co-articulation diacritics
ɔ̹ x̹ More rounded ɔ̜ x̜ʷ Less rounded
tʷ dʷ Labialized tʲ dʲ Palatalized
tˠ dˠ Velarized tˁ dˁ Pharyngealized
ɫ Velarized or pharyngealized
e̘ o̘ Advanced tongue root e̙ o̙ Retracted tongue root
ẽ z̃ Nasalized ɚ ɝ Rhoticity


  1. Some linguists restrict this breathy-voice diacritic to sonorants, and transcribe obstruents as .
  2. With aspirated voiced consonants, the aspiration is also voiced. Many linguists prefer one of the diacritics dedicated to breathy voice.

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:

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

Extended IPA diacritics

The letters and diacritics of the ExtIPA

The ExtIPA has widened the use of some of the regular IPA symbols, such as ʰp for pre-aspiration, for uvularization, or for a linguolabial sibilant, as well as adding some new ones. Some of the ExtIPA diacritics are occasionally used for non-disordered speech, for example for the unusual airstream mechanisms of Damin.

One modification is the use of subscript parentheses around the phonation diacritics to indicate partial phonation; a single parenthesis at the left or right of the voicing indicates that it is partially phonated at the beginning or end of the segment. For example, ₍s̬₎ is a partially voiced [s], ₍s̬ shows partial initial voicing, and s̬₎ partial final voicing; also ₍z̥₎ is a partially devoiced [z], ₍z̥ shows partial initial devoicing, and z̥₎ partial final devoicing. These conventions may be convenient for representing various voice onset times.

Phonation diacritics may also be prefixed or suffixed rather than placed directly under the segment to represent relative timing. For instance,  ̬z is a pre-voiced [z], z ̬ a post-voiced [z], and a ̰ is an [a] with a creaky offglide.

Other ExtIPA diacritics are,

Airstream mechanism
p↓ Ingressive airflow !↑ Egressive airflow
p⁼ Unaspirated Whispery phonation
aĦ Faucalized voice (stretched pharynx,
as in a yawn)
a! Harsh voice, ('pressed voice'; involves the
false vocal cords, as when lifting a load)
ʰp Pre-aspiration a‼ Ventricular vibration
n͋    v͋ Nasal fricative or frication Denasal (as with a headcold)
Articulatory strength
Strong articulation Weak articulation
Dentolabial n̪͆    h̪͆ Interdental or bidental
s͇    f͇ Alveolar(ized) Whistled articulation
Secondary articulation
Labial spreading (see rounded vowel) ʒœ Open-rounded labialization
kʋ Labiodentalized Velopharyngeal friction
s͢θ Slurred/sliding articulation p\p\p Stutter (reiterated articulation)

In addition to these symbols, a subscript < or > indicates that an articulation is laterally offset to the left or right.

Prosodic notation

The ExtIPA also makes use of Italian musical notation for the tempo and dynamics of connected speech. These are subscripted on the insides of a {brace} notation that indicates that they are comments on the prosody.

Pauses are indicated with periods or numbers inside parentheses.

(.) Short pause (..) Medium pause (...) Long pause (1.2) 1.2-second pause
f Loud speech
[{f lɑʊdf}] ff Louder speech
[{ff lɑʊdɚ ff}]
p Quiet speech
[{p kwaɪət p}] pp Quieter speech
[{pp kwaɪətɚ pp}]
allegro Fast speech [{allegro fɑːst allegro}] lento Slow speech [{lento sloʊ lento}]
crescendo, rallentando, and other musical terms may also be used.

Obsolete symbols, nonstandard symbols, and capital variants

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 for standard ʊ. Several symbols 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.

There are also unsupported symbols from local traditions that find their way into publications that otherwise use the standard IPA. This is especially common with affricates such as ƛ.

While the IPA does not itself have a set of capital letters (the ones that look like capitals are actually small capitals), many languages have adopted symbols from the IPA as part of their orthographies, and in such cases they have invented capital variants of these. This is especially common in Africa. An example is Kabye of northern Togo, which has Ɔ Ɛ Ŋ Ɣ Ʃ (capital ʃ). Other pseudo-IPA capitals supported by unicode are Ɓ/Ƃ Ƈ Ɗ/Ƌ Ə/Ǝ Ɠ Ħ Ɯ Ɲ Ɵ Ʈ Ʊ Ʋ Ʒ.

ɩ Iota, rejected 1989 in favor of [ɪ]
ɷ Closed omega, rejected 1989 in favor of [ʊ]
ʚ Closed epsilon, a mistake for [ɞ]
ɼ Long-leg R, voiced strident apico-alveolar trill (Czech ř), withdrawn 1989, = [r̝]
ɿ Reversed fishhook R / turned iota, apical dental unrounded vowel used by Sinologists, = [z̩]
ʅ Squat reversed esh (actually ɿ with retroflex tail), apical retroflex unrounded vowel used by Sinologists, = [ʐ̩]
ʮ turned h with fishhook, apical dental rounded vowel used by Sinologists, = [z̩ʷ]
ʯ turned h with fishhook and tail, apical retroflex rounded vowel used by Sinologists, = [ʐ̩ʷ]
ȶ t with curl, voiceless palatalized postalveolar (alveolo-palatal) plosive, used by Sinologists
ȡ d with curl, voiced palatalized postalveolar (alveolo-palatal) plosive, used by Sinologists
ȵ n with curl, voiced palatalized postalveolar (alveolo-palatal) nasal, used by Sinologists
A small capital A, open central vowel used by Sinologists, between [a] and [ɑ]
E small capital E, mid front unrounded vowel used by Sinologists, between [e] and [ɛ]
ʆ Curly-tail esh, withdrawn 1989, = [ʃʲ]
ʓ Curly-tail ezh, withdrawn 1989, = [ʒʲ]
ƫ Left-hook T, withdrawn 1989, = [tʲ]
etc. Subscript left hook, superseded 1989 by [dʲ] etc.
σ = [θʷ, sʷ]
ƍ = [ðʷ, zʷ]
ƪ = [ʃʷ]
ƺ = [ʒʷ]
etc. Subscript w, superseded 1989 by [kʷ] etc.
ɑ̢ etc. = [ɑ˞] etc. ("retroflex" or r-colored vowels)
ʇ Turned T, superseded 1989 by [ǀ]
ʖ Inverted glottal stop, superseded 1989 by [ǁ]
ʗ Stretched C, superseded 1989 by [ǃ]
ʞ Proposed symbol for velar click, withdrawn 1970
ƥ ƭ ƈ ƙ ʠ Hooktop P, T, C, K, Q, withdrawn 1993, = [ɓ̥ ɗ̥ ʄ̥ ɠ̥ ʛ̥]
ƞ Right-leg N, withdrawn 1976, = [n̩]
š Americanist usage, = [ʃ]
ž Americanist usage, = [ʒ]
č Americanist usage, = [t͡ʃ]
ǰ, ǧ, ǯ Americanist, Slavicist etc. usage, = [d͡ʒ]
ƛ Americanist usage, = [t͡ɬ]
λ Americanist usage, = [d͡ɮ]
ƾ Withdrawn 1976, = [t͡s]
ƻ Barred two, withdrawn 1976, = [d͡z]

How to transcribe sounds that don't have symbols in the IPA charts

The remaining blank cells on the IPA chart can be filled without too much difficulty if the need arises. Some ad hoc symbols have appeared in the literature, for example for the lateral flaps and voiceless lateral fricatives, the epiglottal trill, and the labiodental plosives. Diacritics can supply much of the remainder, which would indeed be appropriate if the sounds were allophones. For example, the Spanish bilabial approximant is commonly written as a lowered fricative, [β̞]. 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 symbol and the advanced diacritic, [v̛̟]. Similarly, a labiodental trill would be written [ʙ̪] (bilabial trill and the dental sign). Palatal and uvular taps, if they exist, and the epiglottal tap could be written as extra-short plosives, [ɟ˘ ɢ˘ ʡ˘]. A retroflex trill can be written as a retracted [r̠], just as retroflex fricatives sometimes are. The remaining consonants, the uvular laterals 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 similary manageable by using diacritics for raising, lowering, fronting, backing, centering, and mid-centering. 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 vowels that aren't representable in this scheme are the compressed vowels, which would require a dedicated diacritic.

Names of the symbols

It is often desirable to distinguish an IPA symbol from the sound it is intended to represent, since there is not a one-to-one correspondance between symbol and sound in broad transcription. The symbol's names and phonetic descriptions are described in the Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. 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 letters

The traditional names of the Latin and Greek letters are used for unmodified symbols. In Unicode, some of the symbols of Greek origin have Latin forms for use in IPA; the others use the symbols from the Greek section.


IPA symbol name phonetic description Unicode name
p (lower-case) P voiceless bilabial plosive LATIN SMALL LETTER P
x (lower-case) X voiceless velar fricative LATIN SMALL LETTER X
r (lower-case) R coronal trill LATIN SMALL LETTER R
β beta voiced bilabial fricative GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA
ɛ epsilon open-mid front unrounded vowel LATIN SMALL LETTER OPEN E
ɣ gamma voiced velar fricative LATIN SMALL LETTER GAMMA
θ theta voiceless dental fricative GREEK SMALL LETTER THETA
χ chi voiceless uvular fricative GREEK SMALL LETTER CHI
ɸ phi voiceless bilabial fricative LATIN SMALL LETTER PHI
ʊ upsilon 1 near-close near-back rounded vowel LATIN SMALL LETTER UPSILON


  1. The Latin "upsilon" is frequently called "horseshoe u" in order to distinguish it from the Greek upsilon. Historically, it derives from a Latin small capital U.

The IPA standard includes some small capital letters, such as ʀ, although it is common to refer to these symbols as simply "capital" or "cap" letters, because the IPA standard does not include any full-size capital letters.

A few letters have the forms of cursive or script letters. Examples:

IPA symbol name phonetic description Unicode name
ɑ script A open back unrounded vowel LATIN SMALL LETTER ALPHA
ɡ opentail G 1 voiced velar plosive LATIN SMALL LETTER SCRIPT G
ʋ cursive V 2 labiodental approximant LATIN SMALL LETTER V WITH HOOK


  1. The "looptail G" File:Looptail g.PNG is not strictly an IPA character, but is an acceptable alternative.
  2. In form and origin, but not in name, this is the Greek upsilon.

Ligatures are called precisely that, although some have alternate names. Examples:

IPA symbol name phonetic description Unicode name
œ (lower-case) o-e ligature open-mid front rounded vowel LATIN SMALL LIGATURE OE
ɮ L-Ezh ligature voiced coronal lateral fricative LATIN SMALL LETTER LEZH
æ ash; (lower-case) a-e ligature near-open front unrounded vowel LATIN SMALL LETTER AE

Many letters are turned, or rotated 180 degrees. Examples:

IPA symbol name phonetic description Unicode name
ʎ turned Y palatal lateral approximant LATIN SMALL LETTER TURNED Y
ɥ turned H labial-palatal approximant LATIN SMALL LETTER TURNED H
ɒ turned script A open back rounded vowel LATIN SMALL LETTER TURNED ALPHA
ʌ turned V open-mid back unrounded vowel LATIN SMALL TURNED V
ɔ open O open-mid back rounded vowel LATIN SMALL LETTER OPEN O

The symbol ɔ can be described as a turned cee, but it is almost always referred to as open o, which described both its articulation and its shape. The symbol ʌ is often also called "caret" or "wedge" for it similarity to that diacritic.

A few letters are reversed (flipped on a vertical axis): ɘ reversed E, ɜ reversed epsilon, ʕ reversed glottal stop [often called by its Arabic name, ayin].

One letter is inverted (flipped on a horizontal axis): ʁ inverted R. (ʍ could also be called an inverted double-u, but turned double-u is more common.)

When a horizontal stroke is added, it is called a bar: ħ barred H, ɵ barred o, ʢ reversed barred glottal stop or barred ayin, ɟ barred dotless J or barred gelded J [apparently never 'turned F'], ǂ double-barred pipe, etc.

One letter instead has a slash through it: ø slashed O.

The implosives have hook tops: ɓ hook-top B, as does ɦ hook-top H.

Such an extension at the bottom of a letter is called a tail. It may be specified as left or right depending on which direction it turns: ɳ right-tail N, ɻ right-tail turned R, ɲ left-tail N [note that ŋ has its own traditional name, engma], ɱ left-tail em, ʐ tail Z [or just retroflex Z], etc.

When the tail loops over itself, it's called curly: ʝ curly-tail jay, ɕ curly-tail C.

There are also a few unique modifications: ɬ belted L, ɞ closed reversed epsilon [there was once also a ɷ closed omega], ɰ right-leg turned M, ɺ turned long-leg R [there was once also a long-leg R], ǁ double pipe, and the obsolete ʗ stretched C.

Several non-English letters have traditional names: ç C cedilla, ð eth (also spelled edh), ŋ engma, ə schwa, ǃ exclamation mark, ǀ pipe.

Other symbols are unique to the IPA, and have developed their own quirky names: ɾ fish-hook R, ɤ ram's horns, ʘ bull's eye, ʃ esh [apparently never 'stretched ess'], ʒ ezh [sometimes also yogh], ɧ hook-top heng.

The ʔ is usually called by the sound it represents, glottal stop. This is not normally a problem, because this symbol is seldom used to represent anything else. However, to specify the symbol itself, it is sometimes called a gelded question mark.

The diacritic marks

Diacritics with traditional names:

é acute, ē macron, è grave, ê circumflex, ě caron, wedge, or háček, ë diaeresis or umlaut, ĕ breve, (superscript) tilde, plus variants such as subscript tilde, ɫ superimposed tilde, etc.

Non-traditional diacritics:

seagull, hook, over-cross, d ̚ corner, bridge, inverted bridge, square, under-ring, over-ring, left half-ring, right half-ring, plus, under-bar, arch, subscript wedge, up tack, down tack, left tack, right tack, d͡z tie bar, under-dot, under-stroke.

Diacritics are alternately named after their function: The bridge is also called the dental sign, the under-stroke the syllabicity sign, etc.

Comparison to other phonetic notation

The IPA is not the only phonetic transcription system in use. The other common Latin-based system is the Americanist phonetic notation, devised for representing American languages, but used by some US linguists as an alternate to the IPA. There are also sets of symbols specific to Slavic, Indic, Finno-Ugric, and Caucasian linguistics, as well as other regional specialies. The differences between these alphabets and IPA are relatively small, although often the special characters of the IPA are abandoned in favour of diacritics or digraphs.

Other alphabets, such as Hangul, may have their own phonetic extensions. There also exist featural phonetic transcription systems, such as Alexander Bell's Visible Speech and its derivatives.

There is an extended version of the IPA for disordered speech (extIPA), which has been included in this article, and another set of symbols used for voice quality (VoQS). There are also many personal or idiosyncratic extensions, such as Luciano Canepari's canIPA.

Since the IPA uses symbols that are outside the ASCII character set, several systems have been developed that map the IPA symbols to ASCII characters. Two notable systems are Kirshenbaum and SAMPA (or X-SAMPA). These systems are often used in electronic media, although their usage has been declining with the development of computer technology, specifically because of spreading support for Unicode.

See also: Unicode and HTML

See also

External links

Free IPA font downloads

  • Gentium, a professionally designed international font (Latin, Greek, Cyrillic) in roman and italic typefaces that includes the IPA, but not yet tone letters or the new labiodental flap.
  • Charis SIL, a very complete international font (Latin, Greek, Cyrillic) in roman, italic, and bold typefaces that includes tone letters and pre-composed tone diacritics on IPA vowels, the new labiodental flap, and many non-standard phonetic symbols.
  • Doulos SIL, a Times/Times New Roman style font. It contains the same characters as Charis SIL, but only in a single face, roman.
  • SIL93 the legacy SIL IPA93 fonts (Manuscript and Sophia) recoded in Unicode.
  • Test page for installed fonts. Includes alternate variants and tone letters.


Sound files



Official Unicode PDF files:

Personal extensions of the IPA

  • canIPA : Luciano Canepari's system (500 base symbols)


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  • Ball, Martin J.; Esling, John H.; & Dickson, B. Craig. (1995). The VoQS system for the transcription of voice quality. Journal of the International Phonetic Alphabet, 25 (2), 71-80.
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