It was originally developed in the late 1980s for six European languages by the EEC ESPRIT information technology research and development program. As many symbols as possible have been taken over from the IPA; where this is not possible, other signs that are available are used, e.g. [
@] for schwa (IPA [ə]), [
2] for the vowel sound found in French deux (IPA [ø]), and [
9] for the vowel sound found in French neuf (IPA [œ]).
Today, officially, SAMPA has been developed for all the sounds of the following languages:
SAMPA was developed in the late 1980s in the European Commission-funded ESPRIT project 2589 "Speech Assessment Methods" (SAM)—hence "SAM Phonetic Alphabet"—in order to facilitate email data exchange and computational processing of transcriptions in phonetics and speech technology.
SAMPA is a partial encoding of the IPA. The first version of SAMPA was the union of the sets of phoneme codes for Danish, Dutch, English, French, German and Italian; later versions extended SAMPA to cover other European languages. Since SAMPA is based on phoneme inventories, each SAMPA table is valid only in the language it was created for. In order to make this IPA encoding technique universally applicable, X-SAMPA was created, which provides one single table without language-specific differences.
SAMPA was devised as a hack to work around the inability of text encodings to represent IPA symbols. Consequently, as Unicode support for IPA symbols becomes more widespread, the necessity for a separate, computer-readable system for representing the IPA in ASCII decreases. However, text input relies on specific keyboard encodings or input devices. For this reason, SAMPA and X-SAMPA are still widely used[better source needed] in computational phonetics and in speech technology.