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International Phonetic Alphabet

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International Phonetic Alphabet
IPA chart 2005.svg
Type Alphabet
Spoken languages Reserved for phonetic transcription of any language
Time period 1888 to the present
Parent systems
Romic Alphabet

Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a system for writing down sounds. It was created by the International Phonetic Association in 1886, so that people could write down sounds of languages in a standard way.[1] Linguists, language teachers, and translators use this system to show the pronunciation for words.

Wikipedia also uses the IPA to show how certain words are meant to be spoken. Most symbols are letters in the Latin alphabet, or variations of it. For example, the palatal approximant (the y in yesterday) is written with [j]. In IPA symbols can be written between slashes (broad transcription, e.g."little" can be written as /lɪtl/ ) or in square brackets ( narrow transcription, e.g. "little" can be written [lɪɾɫ] ). Narrow translation is more precise than broad.

The IPA has symbols only for sounds that are used normally in spoken languages. The Extended IPA is used to write down other sounds.

The IPA is sometimes changed, and symbols are added or taken away. Right now there are 107 different letters in the IPA, and 52 diacritics which are used with the letters.


In 1886, a group of French and British language teachers formed the International Phonetic Association. These teachers used the Romic alphabet at first. They later changed the alphabet so that different languages would all write the same sounds with the same letters.

Use of the alphabet

The IPA is made to have one symbol for each sound. For example, the letter <x> in English normally is spoken as two sounds ([ks]), but could also mean [gz] or [z].


The International Phonetic Alphabet has letters for three types of sounds: pulmonic consonants, non-pulmonic consonants, and vowels.

Pulmonic consonants

Pulmonic consonants are made by obstructing air coming from the lungs. Most consonants (and all English consonants) are pulmonic. The symbols for these sounds are arranged in a table. The rows show how the sound is made, and the columns show where it is made.

Where the sound is made → Labial Coronal Dorsal Radical Glottal
Bi­la­bial La­bio­dental Den­tal Al­veo­lar Post­al­veo­lar Re­tro­flex Pa­la­tal Ve­lar Uvu­lar Pha­ryn­geal Epi­glot­tal
How the sound is made ↓
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   a ɰ      
Trill    ʙ    r     retroflex trill    ʀ    я*  
Tap or Flap    ⱱ̟        ɾ    ɽ      ɢ̆      ʡ̯  
Lateral Fricative ɬ ɮ *    *    *       
Lateral Approx­imant    l    ɭ    ʎ    ʟ  
Lateral Flap      ɺ    *    ʎ̯    ʟ̆    

Non-pulmonic consonants

Non-pulmonic consonants are made without air coming from the lungs. There are three types of non-pulmonic consonants. Implosive consonants are made by taking air into the mouth. Ejective consonants are made by forcing the air out of the voicebox instead of the lungs. Click consonants are made by creating an airtight pocket in the mouth and quickly releasing it.


  1. International Phonetic Association (1999). Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65236-7 (hb); ISBN 0-521-63751-1 (pb).

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