The alphabet of the International Phonetics Association. It is actually more useful in phonemic transcription, as opposed to phonetic, but serves well for either.

IPA symbols

Most of the IPA symbols are in Unicode. This likely as not means they won't display in your web browser. This won't stop us from trying. What follows is: IPA letter - Unicode name or description of letter for the technologically impaired - description of the sound the letter represents.

Plosives (Stops)

  • p - small letter P - voiceless bilabial
  • b - small letter B - voiced bilabial
  • t - small letter T - voiceless dental/alveolar/postalveolar
  • d - small letter D - voiced dent/alv/postalv
  • ʈ - small letter T with retroflex hook - voiceless retroflex
  • ɖ - small letter D with tail - voiced retroflex
  • c - small letter C - voiceless palatal
  • ɟ - small letter dotless J with stroke - voiced palatal
  • k - small letter K - voiceless velar
  • ɡ - small letter script G{*} - voiced velar
  • q - small letter Q - voiceless uvular
  • ɢ - small capital G - voiced uvular
  • ʔ - glottal stop (like a dotless question mark) - voiceless glottal
{*} "script" G meaning the handwritten kind that looks like an A with a tail, not the perverse typewriter-style G. The standard is in place for simplicity's sake.

Nasals (symbols are all for voiced nasals)

  • m - small letter M - bilabial
  • ɱ - small letter M with hook - labiodental
  • n - small letter N - dental/alveolar/postalveolar
  • ɳ - small letter N with retroflex hook - retroflex
  • ɲ - small letter N with left hook - palatal
  • ŋ - small letter Ŋ (like n with a left hook on the right) - velar
  • ɴ - small capital N - uvular

Trills (again, all voiced)

  • ʙ - small capital B - bilabial
  • r - small letter r - dental/alveolar/postalveolar
  • ʀ - small capital R - uvular

Taps or Flaps

  • ɾ - small letter R with fishhook (like an r without the upper-left serif) - dental/alveolar/postalveolar
  • ɽ - small letter R with tail - retroflex


  • φ - small Greek phi - voiceless bilabial
  • β - small Greek beta - voiced bilabial
  • f - small letter F - voiceless labiodental
  • v - small letter V - voiced labiodental
  • θ - small Greek theta - voiceless dental
  • ð - small eth (like d with a stroke) - voiced dental
  • s - small letter S - voiceless alveolar
  • z - small letter Z - voiced alveolar
  • ʃ - small letter esh (like the long fancy s's in old writing) - voiceless postalveolar
  • ʒ - small letter ezh (like a 3 with sharper edges, or a yogh if you know what that is) - voiced postalveolar
  • ʂ - small letter s with hook - voiceless retroflex
  • ʐ - small letter z with retroflex hook - voiced retroflex
  • ç - small letter c with cedilla - voiceless palatal
  • ʝ - small letter j with crossed tail - voiced palatal
  • x - small letter x - voiceless velar
  • ɣ - small letter gamma - voiced velar
  • χ - small Greek chi - voiceless uvular
  • ʁ - small capital inverted R - voiced uvular
  • ħ - small letter H with stroke - voiceless pharyngeal
  • ʕ - small letter pharyngeal voiced fricative (like a reversed glottal stop) - voiced pharyngeal (duh)
  • h - small letter h - voiceless glottal
  • ɦ - small letter H with hook - voiced glottal

Lateral fricatives

  • ɬ - small letter L with belt - voiceless dent/alv/p-alv
  • ɮ - small letter lezh (like an L-ezh ligature) - voiced dent/alv/p-alv


  • ʋ - small letter V with hook (looks like minuscule Greek upsilon) - labiodental
  • ɹ - small turned R - dent/alv/p-alv
  • ɻ - small turned R with hook - retroflex
  • j - small letter J - palatal
  • ɰ - small turned M with long leg - velar

Lateral Approximants

  • l - small letter L - dent/alv/p-alv
  • ɭ - small letter L with retroflex hook - retroflex
  • ʎ - small turned Y - palatal
  • ʟ - small capital L - velar


  • ʘ - bullseye - bilabial click
  • ǀ - solid "|" pipe - dental click
  • ǃ - exclamation mark - (post)alveolar click
  • ǂ - pipe | crossed with = equals - palatoalveolar click
  • ǁ - double || pipe - alveolar lateral click

Voiced Implosives

  • ɓ - small letter b with hook - bilabial
  • ɗ - small letter d with hook - dental/alveolar
  • ʄ - small letter turned dotless j with stroke and hook - palatal
  • ɠ - small letter g with hook - velar
  • ʛ - small capital G with hook - uvular

Other consonants

  • ʍ - small turned W - voiceless labiovelar fricative
  • w - small letter W - voiced labiovelar fricative
  • ɥ - small turned H - voiced labiopalatal approximant
  • ʜ - small capital H - voiceless epiglottal fricative
  • ʢ - small reversed glottal stop with stroke - voiced epiglottal fricative
  • ʡ - small glottal stop with stroke - epiglottal plosive
  • ɕ - small letter c with curl - voiceless alveopalatal fricative
  • ʑ - small letter z with curl - voiced alveopalatal fricative
  • ɺ - small turned R with long leg - alveolar lateral flap
  • ɧ - small letter heng with hook (like an eng with a tall curved left stroke) - simultaneous ʃ and x


  • i - small letter I - close front unrounded
  • y - small letter Y - close front rounded
  • ɨ - small letter I with stroke - close central unrounded
  • ʉ - small letter U bar - close central rounded
  • ɯ - small turned M - close back unrounded
  • u - small letter U - close back rounded
  • ɪ - small capital I - near-close front unrounded
  • ʏ - small capital Y - near-close front rounded
  • ʊ - small upsilon (like an inverted horseshoe) - near-close back rounded
  • e - small letter e - close-mid front unrounded
  • ø - small letter o with slash - close-mid front rounded
  • ɘ - small reversed e - close-mid central unrounded
  • ɵ - small barred o - close-mid central rounded
  • ɤ - small ram's horn (like a tiny small gamma) - close-mid back unrounded
  • o - small letter o - close-mid back rounded
  • ə - small schwa - mid central unrounded
  • ɛ - small letter open e (like a reversed 3) - open-mid front unrounded
  • œ - small oe ligature - open-mid front rounded
  • ɜ - small reversed open e (like a small 3) - open-mid central unrounded
  • ɞ - small closed reversed open e (it's open, it's closed, it's like a heart turned on its side!) - open-mid central rounded
  • ʌ - small turned v - open-mid back unrounded
  • ɔ - small open o (like a turned c) - open-mid back rounded
  • æ - small ae ligature "ash" - near-open front unrounded
  • ɐ - small turned a - near-open central unrounded
  • a - small letter a (the typewriter kind) - open front unrounded
  • ɶ - small capital oe ligature - open front rounded
  • ɑ - small letter alpha ("script" a) - open back unrounded
  • ɒ - small turned alpha - open back rounded

Diacritics (placed on a sample letter which it may not make actual sense to apply the diacritic to)

  • e̥ - ring below - makes a sign voiceless
  • e̬ - caron below - ...voiced
  • e̹ - right half ring below - ...more rounded
  • e̜ - left half ring below - ...less rounded
  • e̟ - plus sign below - ...advanced
  • ĕ - breve above - ...extra short
  • e̠ - minus sign below - ...retracted
  • ë - diaeresis above - ...centralized
  • e̽ - x above - ...mid-centralized
  • e̩ - vertical line below - ...syllabic
  • e̯ - inverted breve below - ...non-syllabic
  • e˞ - rhotic hook - ...rhotic
  • e̤ - diaeresis below - ...breathy voiced
  • ḛ - tilde below - ...creaky voiced
  • e̼ - seagull below - ...linguolabial
  • e̪ - bridge below -
  • e̺ - inverted bridge below - ...apical
  • e̻ - square below - ...laminal
  • ẽ - tilde above - ...nasalized
  • l̴ - tilde through - ...velarized or pharyngealized
  • e̝ - up tack below - ...raised
  • e̞ - down tack below - ...lowered
  • e̘ - left tack below - ...Advanced Tongue Root
  • e̙ - right tack below - ...Retracted Tongue Root
  • e̋ - double acute - ...extra-high tone
  • é - acute - ...high tone
  • ē - macron - ...mid tone
  • è - grave - ...low tone
  • ȅ - double grave - ...extra-low tone

Other wacky marks

  • ˈ - vertical line - primary stress (stress marks go before the syllable to be stressed)
  • ˌ - low vertical line - secondary stress
  • ʼ - apostrophe - ejective modifier, marks symbol as glottalized/ejective (modifiers go after the symbol to be modified)
  • ː - triangular colon - length modifier, marks symbol as long
  • ˑ - half triangular colon - length modifier, marks symbol as half-long
  • . - period - syllable break
  • ǀ - solid pipe - "minor (foot) group" (whatever that means)
  • ǁ - double pipe - "major (intonation) group" (whatever that means)
  • (no Unicode) - low breve - "linking (absence of a break)"
  • ↑ - up arrow - (tonal) upstep
  • ↓ - down arrow - (tonal) downstep
  • ˥ - extra-high tone bar
  • ˦ - high tone bar
  • ˧ - mid tone bar
  • ˨ - low tone bar
  • ˩ - extra-low tone bar
  • (no Unicode) - contour marks (like the tone bars, but squiggly)
  • ↗ - northeast arrow - (contour) global rise
  • ↘ - southeast arrow - (contour) global fall
  • ʰ - superscript small H - aspiration
  • ʷ - superscript small W - labialization
  • ʲ - superscript small J - palatalization
  • ˠ - superscript small gamma - velarization
  • ˁ - superscript reversed glottal stop - pharyngealization
  • (no Unicode) - superscript small N - nasal release
  • ˡ - superscript small L - lateral release
  • ̚ - superscript left angle - no audible release

*whew*... That enough yet? It gets worse though--first, these aren't all the IPA symbols, and second, IPA (contrary to popular belief) actually doesn't have symbols for all the sounds used in human languages. Find an actual chart (it'll look better than this node) and notice the blank spots...

Because IPA is pretty much the evil flaming Hades to transmit over the web (you probably can't read it in your browser unless you have a big macho font like I have), imagine how bad it is over email. ASCII versions of IPA exist to solve just this problem, such as X-SAMPA and Kirshenbaum IPA.

In a linguistic context IPA originally stands for International Phonetic Association, an organization set up in the 1880s for discussion of phonetic matters, and the standardization of phonetic transcriptions. Among the founders was Paul Passy, and another was Henry Sweet, the great phonetician that Shaw's Henry Higgins in Pygmalion is based on.

They devised a phonetic alphabet, called naturally enough the IPA alphabet. However, invariably the letters IPA are also treated as meaning this, the International Phonetic Alphabet.

In their early days they tried out quite a few different systems of transcription over a short period. Their journal was called The Phonetic Teacher when it was issued in 1886, but was titled and printed all in phonetic notation, so from month to month would come out with a name that was some variant such as Dhi Fonètik Tîcer. It became Le Maître Phonétique in 1889. Although the IPA alphabet settled down quite soon, they continued printing the journal in IPA until around 1971, when it became the Journal of the IPA.

There was a significant revision of the alphabet at the Kiel Conference of (?)1991. A number of new symbols were added, some terminology was revised, and the entire system of marking tone was changed.

One of the principles of the IPA is that you don't have to indicate super-fine shades of sound unless you're drawing attention to them. A language with five vowels roughly evenly spaced, such as Japanese, can be notated with the simple romanic symbols [a e i o u] even though there are special symbols that are more accurate. The square brackets around characters indicates that they are phonetic symbols.

Aesop's fable of The North Wind and the Sun has been used as a standard sample, so an old IPA handbook had it in about fifty languages rendered in IPA, from Icelandic to Korean to Xhosa.

The unofficial standard for mapping IPA into ASCII is called SAMPA, a simpler version for most European languages, and X-SAMPA, an extension to cover all others. It is primarily maintained by University College London (UCL).

By the way, the proper way to display IPA symbols as such on the Web, which however will not work fully on E2, because write-ups here don't support the <font> tag, is to enclose HTML numeric symbols in a font that many people are likely to have and that includes IPA. The recommended one for widest coverage is Lucida Sans Unicode, and another is Arial Unicode MS. So
<font family="Lucida Sans Unicode">['st&#633;&#594;&#331;g&#601;]</font>
should display a phonetic rendition of the word 'stronger'. If I use that in this write-up, however, what you see is:

Using IPA in Unicode:

"The nerve they've got!"
-My phonetics teacher's response when I told him that the sequence of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc. used in radio communication was actually called "The International Phonetic Alphabet".

For a long time, it has been a nuisance to people who are both radio amateurs and phoneticians/linguists that the same name is used to refer to both the funny-sounding words that are used to spell out Latin letters on the radio and on the phone, and the funny-looking characters devised by the International Phonetic Association that are used to transcribe human speech.

Most often, context is enough to disambiguate between the two senses of the name, but to avoid confusion I suggest using the following replacements:

The other unofficial standard for mapping IPA into ASCII is, surprisingly enough, called IPA/ASCII. IPA/ASCII is the de facto standard on Usenet and to a lesser extent on the Web, although the advent of Unicode (which includes all IPA characters) will hopefully eventually obsolete such kludges.

At any rate, the entire IPA/ASCII standard has been noded for the pleasure of all you cunning linguists. There are quite a few similarities to SAMPA, but still enough differences to keep you on your toes. Standards are wonderful, there are so many to choose from...

Many of the holes in the IPA chart exist because of either two reasons:

A. This sound exists in no human language because it is nearly impossible to produce. An example would be a pharyngeal stop, since it would involve retracting the tongue root to touch the back of the throat.

B. This sound is literally impossible to make, a good example being a voiced glottal stop. Another classic example is a bilabial lateral. This is usually due to the fact that the place of articulation conflicts with the manner of articulation. These impossible sounds are represented as grey blocks on the IPA chart.

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