International Phonetic Alphabet

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 the sounds of spoken language.[1] The IPA is used by lexicographers, foreign language students and teachers, linguists, speech-language pathologists, singers, actors, constructed language creators and translators.[2][3]

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.[1] 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.[2]

IPA symbols are composed of one or more elements of two basic types, letters and diacritics. For example, the sound of the English letter ⟨t⟩ may be transcribed in IPA with a single letter, [t], or with a letter plus diacritics, [t̺ʰ], depending on how precise one wishes to be.[note 1] Slashes are used to signal phonemic transcription; thus, /t/ is more abstract than either [t̺ʰ] or [t], 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,[4] 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. These are shown in the current IPA chart, also posted below in this article and at the website of the IPA.[5]

In 1886, a group of French and British language teachers, led by the French linguist Paul Passy, formed what would come to be known from 1897 onwards as the International Phonetic Association (in French, l'Association phonétique internationale).[6] Their original alphabet was based on a spelling reform for English known as the Romic alphabet, but in order to make it usable for other languages, the values of the symbols were allowed to vary from language to language.[7] For example, the sound [ʃ] (the sh in shoe) was originally represented with the letter ⟨c⟩ in English, but with the digraph ⟨ch⟩ in French.[6] In 1888, the alphabet was revised so as to be uniform across languages, thus providing the base for all future revisions.[6][8] 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.[9]

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[2] and the removal of letters for voiceless implosives.[10] The alphabet was last revised in May 2005 with the addition of a letter for a labiodental flap.[11] Apart from the addition and removal of symbols, changes to the IPA have consisted largely of renaming symbols and categories and in modifying typefaces.[2]

Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet for speech pathology were created in 1990 and officially adopted by the in 1994.[12]

The general principle of the IPA is to provide one letter for each distinctive sound (speech segment), although this practice is not followed if the sound itself is complex.[failed verification][13] This means that:

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 (⟨ˇ⟩, once used for the 'compound' tone of Swedish and Norwegian, and ⟨ƞ⟩, once used for the moraic nasal of Japanese), though one remains: ⟨ɧ⟩, 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, ⟨c⟩ and ⟨ɟ⟩ are used in the IPA Handbook for /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/.

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.[note 3] These are organized into a chart; the chart displayed here is the as posted at the website of the IPA.

The letters chosen for the IPA are meant to harmonize with the Latin alphabet.[note 4] 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, ⟨ʔ⟩, 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, ⟨ʕ⟩, were inspired by other writing systems (in this case, the Arabic letter ʿayn, via the reversed apostrophe).[10]

Full capital letters are not used as IPA symbols. They are, however, often used in conjunction with the IPA in two cases:

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 /V/ (an atonic vowel) to /CGVNᵀ/ (a consonant-glide-vowel-nasal syllable with tone), and word-final devoicing may be schematicized as C/_#. In speech pathology, capital letters represent indeterminate sounds, and may be superscripted to indicate they are weakly articulated: e.g. [ᴰ] is a weak indeterminate alveolar, [ᴷ] a weak indeterminate velar.[15]

⟨V⟩, ⟨F⟩ and ⟨C⟩ 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 [kʷʰuˣʷt̪ʷs̟ʷ] 'cat' and [kʷʰʉˣʷt͜ʃʷ] 'cats' (Islay dialect) can be made more economical by extracting the suprasegmental labialization of the words: Vʷ[kʰuˣt̪s̟] and Vʷ[kʰʉˣt͜ʃ].[19] The usual wildcard X or C might be used instead (Xʷ[...] for all segments labialized, Cʷ[...] for consonants labialized), or omitted altogether. (See Suprasegmentals below for some conventions.)

The International Phonetic Alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, using as few non-Latin forms as possible.[6] The Association created the IPA so that the sound values of most consonant letters taken from the Latin alphabet would correspond to "international usage".[6] Hence, the letters ⟨b⟩, ⟨d⟩, ⟨f⟩, (hard) ⟨ɡ⟩, (non-silent) ⟨h⟩, (unaspirated) ⟨k⟩, ⟨l⟩, ⟨m⟩, ⟨n⟩, (unaspirated) ⟨p⟩, (voiceless) ⟨s⟩, (unaspirated) ⟨t⟩, ⟨v⟩, ⟨w⟩, and ⟨z⟩ have the values used in English; and the vowel letters from the Latin alphabet (⟨a⟩, ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨u⟩) correspond to the (long) sound values of Latin: [i] is like the vowel in machine, [u] is as in rule, etc. Other letters may differ from English, but are used with these values in other European languages, such as ⟨j⟩, ⟨r⟩, and ⟨y⟩.

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, ⟨ʋ⟩ 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 ⟨ɑ⟩, ⟨⟩, ⟨ɣ⟩, ⟨ɛ⟩, ⟨ɸ⟩, ⟨⟩, and ⟨ʋ⟩, which are encoded in Unicode separately from their parent Greek letters, though one of them – ⟨θ⟩ – is not, while both Latin ⟨⟩, ⟨⟩ and Greek ⟨β⟩, ⟨χ⟩ are in common use.[20]

The sound values of modified Latin letters can often be derived from those of the original letters.[21] 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.

There are two principal types of brackets used to set off (delimit) IPA transcriptions:

All three of the above are provided by the IPA Handbook. The following are not, but may be seen in IPA transcription:

IPA letters have cursive forms designed for use in manuscripts and when taking field notes.

In the early stages of the alphabet, the typographic variants of g, opentail ⟨ɡ⟩ (Opentail g.svg) and looptail ⟨g⟩ (Looptail g.svg), represented different values, but are now regarded as equivalents. Opentail ⟨ɡ⟩ has always represented a voiced velar plosive, while ⟨Looptail g.svg⟩ was distinguished from ⟨ɡ⟩ and represented a voiced velar fricative from 1895 to 1900.[31][32] Subsequently, ⟨ǥ⟩ represented the fricative, until 1931 when it was replaced again by ⟨ɣ⟩.[33]

In 1948, the Council of the Association recognized ⟨ɡ⟩ and ⟨Looptail g.svg⟩ as typographic equivalents,[34] and this decision was reaffirmed in 1993.[35] While the 1949 Principles of the International Phonetic Association recommended the use of ⟨Looptail g.svg⟩ for a velar plosive and ⟨ɡ⟩ for an advanced one for languages where it is preferable to distinguish the two, such as Russian,[36] this practice never caught on.[37] The 1999 Handbook of the International Phonetic Association, the successor to the Principles, abandoned the recommendation and acknowledged both shapes as acceptable variants.[38]

The authors of textbooks or similar publications often create revised versions of the IPA chart to express their own preferences or needs. The image displays one such version. Only the black symbols are part of the IPA; common additional symbols are in grey. Some of these are in the extIPA.

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".[39] 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.)[40] 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).[41] A formal proposal is then put to the Council of the IPA[42] – which is elected by the membership[43] – for further discussion and a formal vote.[44][45]

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.[46]

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.[1] 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 [ˈlɪtəl], approximately describing many pronunciations. A narrower transcription may focus on individual or dialectical details: [ˈɫɪɾɫ] in General American, [ˈlɪʔo] in Cockney, or [ˈɫɪːɫ] 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 /i/, so that pick, peak would be transcribed as /pik, piːk/ or as /pɪk, pik/; and neither is identical to the vowel of the French pique which is also generally transcribed /i/. By contrast, a narrow phonetic transcription of pick, peak, pique could be: [pʰɪk], [pʰiːk], [pikʲ].

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.[47] 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 because common conventions change over time.

Some language study programs use the IPA to teach pronunciation. For example, in Russia (and earlier in the Soviet Union) and mainland China, textbooks for children[48] and adults[49] for studying English and French consistently use the IPA. English teachers and textbooks in Taiwan tend to use the Kenyon and Knott system, a slight typographical variant of the IPA first used in the 1944 Pronouncing Dictionary of American English.

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.[50] 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 ⟨y⟩ for IPA [j] and ⟨sh⟩ for IPA [ʃ], reflecting common representations of those sounds in written English,[51] using only letters of the English Roman alphabet and variations of them. (In IPA, [y] represents the sound of the French ⟨u⟩ (as in tu), and [sh] represents the pair of sounds in grasshopper.)

The IPA is also not universal among dictionaries in languages other than English. Monolingual dictionaries of languages with generally 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.[52] Bilingual dictionaries that translate from foreign languages into Russian usually employ the IPA, but monolingual Russian dictionaries occasionally use pronunciation respelling for foreign words.[53] 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.[54]

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,[55] but this convention was not included in the 1999 Handbook.

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 in order to perfect the diction of their students and to globally improve tone quality and tuning.[56] Opera librettos are authoritatively transcribed in IPA, such as Nico Castel's volumes[57] and Timothy Cheek's book Singing in Czech.[58] 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".[59]

The International Phonetic Association organizes the letters of the IPA into three categories: pulmonic consonants, non-pulmonic consonants, and vowels.[60][61]

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',[62] 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'.

Each character, letter or diacritic, is assigned a number, to prevent confusion between similar characters (such as ɵ and θ, ɤ and ɣ, or ʃ and ʄ) in such situations as the printing of manuscripts. The categories of sounds are assigned different ranges of numbers.[63]

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.[64]

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.

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).

Affricates and co-articulated stops are represented by two letters joined by a tie bar, either above or below the letters.[68] The six most common affricates are optionally represented by ligatures (ʦ, ʣ, ʧ, ʤ, ʨ, ʥ), though this is no longer official IPA usage,[1] 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 t͡s, paralleling ~ k͡x. The letters for the palatal plosives c and ɟ are often used as a convenience for t͡ʃ and d͡ʒ or similar affricates, even in official IPA publications, so they must be interpreted with care.

Co-articulated consonants are sounds that involve two simultaneous places of articulation (are pronounced using two parts of the vocal tract). In English, the [w] in "went" is a coarticulated consonant, being pronounced by rounding the lips and raising the back of the tongue. Similar sounds are [ʍ] and [ɥ]. In some languages, plosives can be double-articulated, for example in the name of Laurent Gbagbo.

Tongue positions of cardinal front vowels, with highest point indicated. The position of the highest point is used to determine vowel height and backness.

The IPA defines a vowel as a sound which occurs at a syllable center.[70] 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, [ɑ] (the first vowel in father) is at the bottom because the tongue is lowered in this position. [i] (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 [ɛ], the vowel in "met") are to the left in the chart, while those in which it is moved to the back (such as [ʌ], 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 ⟨uɪ̯⟩ or ⟨u̯ɪ⟩, or with a superscript for the on- or off-glide, as in ⟨uᶦ⟩ or ⟨ᵘɪ⟩. 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: ⟨u͡ɪ⟩.

Diacritics are used for phonetic detail. They are added to IPA letters to indicate a modification or specification of that letter's normal pronunciation.[71]

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 ⟨⟩ ([t] with fricative release), ⟨ᵗs⟩ ([s] with affricate onset), ⟨ⁿd⟩ (prenasalized [d]), ⟨⟩ ([b] with breathy voice), ⟨⟩ (glottalized [m]), ⟨sᶴ⟩ ([s] with a flavor of [ʃ]), ⟨oᶷ⟩ ([o] with diphthongization), ⟨ɯᵝ⟩ (compressed [ɯ]). 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 [k] and [w] or else [k] 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 [m], ⟨ˀm[m] with a glottal onset).

Subdiacritics (diacritics normally placed below a letter) may be moved above a letter to avoid conflict with a descender, as in voiceless ⟨ŋ̊⟩.[71] 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.[73] 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 above we saw 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 [kʰuˣt̪s̟]ʷ or prefixed [ʷkʰuˣt̪s̟],[74] or place a spacing diacritic such as ⟨˔⟩ at the beginning of a word to indicate that the quality applies to the entire word.[75]

Officially, the stress marks ⟨ˈ ˌ⟩ 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).[79] Occasionally the stress mark is placed immediately before the nucleus of the syllable, after any consonantal onset.[80] In such transcriptions, the stress mark does not mark a syllable boundary. The primary stress mark may be doubledˈˈ⟩ for extra stress (such as prosodic stress). The secondary stress mark is sometimes seen doubled ⟨ˌˌ⟩ for extra-weak stress, but this convention has not been adopted by the IPA.[79]

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: ⟨μ⟩ for a mora or mora boundary, ⟨σ⟩ 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).

ꜛ ꜜ⟩ 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 ⟨é⟩, ⟨˦e⟩, ⟨⟩, ⟨e꜓⟩ and obsolete ⟨¯e⟩ are seen.[79][81] 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.[82] 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 [ě] and acute plus grave for falling [ê]. 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 [e᷄], low rising [e᷅], high falling [e᷇], and low/mid falling [e᷆].[83]

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 [e˨˦], extra-high falling [e˥˦], 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.[84]

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,[79] though in practice only generic peaking (rising-falling) e᷈ and dipping (falling-rising) e᷉ combinations are used. Chao tone letters are required for finer detail (e˧˥˧, e˩˨˩, e˦˩˧, e˨˩˦, 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.[85] 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.[84]

Chao tone letters generally appear after each syllable, for a language with syllable tone (⟨a˧vɔ˥˩⟩), or after the phonological word, for a language with word tone (⟨avɔ˧˥˩⟩). The IPA gives the option of placing the tone letters before the word or syllable (⟨˧a˥˩vɔ⟩, ⟨˧˥˩avɔ⟩), 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: ⟨꜔a꜒꜖vɔ⟩, ⟨꜔꜒꜖avɔ⟩.) 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.

IPA diacritics may be doubled to indicate an extra degree of the feature indicated. This is a productive process, but apart from extra-high and extra-low tones ⟨ə̋, ə̏⟩ 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.[88] 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:
[ˈˈɑ̃ːˈtre | məˈsjø ‖ ˈˈvwala maˈdam ‖] Entrez monsieur, voilà madame. [89] Similarly, a doubled secondary stress mark ⟨ˌˌ⟩ is commonly used for tertiary (extra-light) stress.[90]

Length is commonly extended by repeating the length mark, as in English shhh! [ʃːːː], or for "overlong" segments in Estonian:

(Normally additional degrees of length are handled by the extra-short or half-long diacritics, but in the Estonian examples, the first two cases[clarification needed] are analyzed as simply short and long.)

The IPA once had parallel symbols from alternative proposals, but in most cases eventually settled on one for each sound. The rejected symbols are now considered obsolete. An example is the vowel letter ⟨ɷ⟩, rejected in favor of ⟨ʊ⟩. Letters for affricates and sounds with inherent secondary articulation have also been mostly rejected, with the idea that such features should be indicated with tie bars or diacritics: ⟨ƍ⟩ for [zʷ] is one. In addition, the rare voiceless implosives, ⟨ƥ ƭ ƈ ƙ ʠ⟩, have been dropped and are now usually written ⟨ɓ̥ ɗ̥ ʄ̊ ɠ̊ ʛ̥⟩. A retired set of click letters, ⟨ʇ, ʗ, ʖ⟩, is still sometimes seen, as the official pipe letters ⟨ǀ, ǃ, ǁ⟩ may cause problems with legibility, especially when used with brackets ([ ] or / /), the letter ⟨l⟩, or the prosodic marks ⟨|, ‖⟩ (for this reason, some publications which use the current IPA pipe letters disallow IPA brackets).[97]

Individual non-IPA letters may find their way into publications that otherwise use the standard IPA. This is especially common with:

In addition, there are typewriter substitutions for when IPA support is not available, such as capital ⟨I, E, U, O, A⟩ for [ɪ, ɛ, ʊ, ɔ, ɑ].

Chart of the Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet (extIPA), as of 2015

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,[99] which were based on the previous work of the PRDS (Phonetic Representation of Disordered Speech) Group in the early 1980s.[100] 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.[101] 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,[2] as well as word sounds such as lateral fricatives that do not have regular 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 which they call "voice quality".

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 ⟨ɺ⟩ and ⟨ǃ⟩ 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" ⟨ʜ ʢ⟩), the labiodental plosives (⟨ȹ ȸ⟩ in some old Bantuist texts) and the near-close central vowels (⟨ᵻ ᵿ⟩ in some publications). Diacritics can duplicate some of those, such as ⟨ɭ̆⟩ for the lateral flap, ⟨p̪ b̪⟩ for the labiodental plosives and ⟨ɪ̈ ʊ̈⟩ for the central vowels, and are able to fill in most of the remainder of the charts.[102] If a sound cannot be transcribed, an asterisk ⟨*⟩ may be used, either as a letter or as a diacritic (as in ⟨k*⟩ 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, [β̞] and [ð̞] respectively.[103] 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 letter and the advanced diacritic, [ⱱ̟].[104]

Similarly, a labiodental trill would be written [ʙ̪] (bilabial trill and the dental sign), and labiodental stops [p̪ b̪] 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. [ɟ̆ ɢ̆ ʟ̆], though in some cases the diacritic would need to be written below the letter. A retroflex trill can be written as a retracted [r̠], just as non-subapical retroflex fricatives sometimes are. The remaining consonants, the uvular laterals (ʟ̠ 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.[105] For example, the unrounded equivalent of [ʊ] can be transcribed as mid-centered [ɯ̽], and the rounded equivalent of [æ] as raised [ɶ̝] or lowered [œ̞] (though for those who conceive of vowel space as a triangle, simple [ɶ] already is the rounded equivalent of [æ]). True mid vowels are lowered [e̞ ø̞ ɘ̞ ɵ̞ ɤ̞ o̞] or raised [ɛ̝ œ̝ ɜ̝ ɞ̝ ʌ̝ ɔ̝], while centered [ɪ̈ ʊ̈] and [ä] (or, less commonly, [ɑ̈]) 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 ⟨ʏʷ⟩ and compressed ⟨uᵝ⟩ (or protruded ⟨ɪʷ⟩ and compressed ⟨ɯᶹ⟩).

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.[106] 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 traditional names of the Latin and Greek letters are usually used for unmodified letters.[note 5] Letters which are not directly derived from these alphabets, such as [ʕ], 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, é 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.[10]

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 full IPA support, properly render diacritics and are freely available include:

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.

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.

Online IPA keyboard utilities[107] are available, and they cover the complete range of IPA symbols and diacritics. In April 2019, Google's Gboard for Android and iOS added an IPA keyboard to its platform.[108][109]