International Phonetic Alphabet

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IPA table 2020 (English)

The International Phonetic Alphabet ( IPA ) is a phonetic alphabet and thus a collection of characters with the help of which the sounds of all human languages can be described and notated almost exactly. It was developed by the International Phonetic Association and is the most widely used phonetic spelling system today .

The current IPA symbols and their pronunciations are listed in the list of IPA symbols .


The most important attempts in Europe before the 19th century to create a universal phonetic alphabet were those by John Wilkins (1614–1672) in 1668, by Francis Lodwick (1619–1694) in 1686, by Charles de Brosses (1709 –1777) in 1765, by William Jones (1746–1794) in 1788 and by William Thornton (1759–1828) in 1793. Further suggestions came from John Pickering (1777–1846) in 1818 and Constantin François Volney ( 1757–1820) 1795. Suggestions by Isaac Pitman (1813–1897) 1837 and 1842 and by Alexander John Ellis (1814–1890) 1845, 1847 and his Essentials of Phonetics, containing the theory of a universal alphabet 1848, should be used later in the creation of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Other forerunners were Samuel Haldeman (1812–1880) with his Analytic Othography 1858/1860, Karl Moritz Rapp and his Physiology of Language (1836–1841), Ernst Brücke (1819–1892) with Basics of Physiology 1856 and 1963, Carl Merkel ( 1812–1876) and his physiology of human language (physiological laletics) 1866, Moritz Thausing (1838–1884) with The natural sound system of human language 1863, Félix du Bois-Reymond (1782–1865) and his writing Kadmus from 1862.

The work of Karl Richard Lepsius , who in 1852 on behalf of the Church Missionary Society proposed an alphabet with the aim of being able to write all languages ​​of the world, but especially African ones without their own writing system , is considered a milestone . A competitor of Lepsius was Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900). The "standard alphabet" of Lepsius was modified with adaptations a. a. used by the Africanist Carl Meinhof (1857-1944) and by the missionary Karl Endemann (1836-1919), and the phonetic alphabet of the missionary Wilhelm Schmidt (1845-1921) was based on the symbols of Lepsius.

In 1867, Visible Speech, the Science of Universal Alphabetics by Alexander Melville Bell (1819–1905) appeared, which presented a rather abstract, iconic phonetic transcription; In 1877 his student Henry Sweet (1845-1912) published a Handbook of Phonetics in which he again proposed a system based on the Latin alphabet with reference to Bell and Ellis.

The French linguist Paul Passy ( Le maître phonétique ) initiated the development of the "International Phonetic Alphabet", the drafts of which were published in 1888. He was also the first president of the International Phonetic Association (still as Dhi Fonètik Tîtcerz 'Asóciécon FTA) from 1886 to 1888. The International Phonetic Association Kiel Convention took place in Kiel in 1989 , which after more than a century brought about a major revision of the IPA. Minor revisions also took place in 1993 and 1996.

Practical meaning

The IPA greatly facilitates the representation of pronunciation in dictionaries and lexicons. However, you should also be careful when reading IPA texts:

In some languages, e.g. B. French , there is a generally accepted standard pronunciation ( orthophony ), with others not. An officially established pronunciation can, however, be uncommon in everyday life. The national range of a sound can be much larger (e.g. the German final syllable -er ) than the difference between similar phonetic signs. What is perceived as correct or incorrect in a language, as normal or strange, as understandable or incomprehensible, cannot be measured by someone who has rarely or never heard the language.

A simplified character set is often used in dictionaries in order not to confuse readers with no prior knowledge. Cassell's German Dictionary does not distinguish between the different pronunciations of the German r , nor the more open pronunciation of a short a , i , u and ü compared to the respective long vowel. The pronunciation of the English no is traditionally rendered generally as [ noʊ ], although in British it is actually said [ nəʊ ]. Usually will not take into account that in some languages without sch-volume [⁠ ʃ ⁠] that 's usually more like [⁠ ɕ ⁠] (between s [⁠ s ⁠] and I-sound [⁠ ç ⁠] ) is pronounced, for example in European Spanish and Greek (a phonetically more accurate description is probably generally "withdrawn", that [s], where the Spanish According rather apical is so [s], the Greek, however, rather Laminal , also [s̻]).

Quite as accurate as it appears, the IPA notation is not, for example, is the [⁠ ʉ ⁠] in English. book only slightly more central [⁠ u ⁠] , in the Norwegian and Swedish word sund only slightly more central [⁠ y ⁠] .

Character assignments of the sounds and phonetic character extensions

The IPA character table uses letters from the Latin writing system and the Greek alphabet , partly in a modified form. Each character denotes a sound or describes a sound that has already been specified, which distinguishes one word from another in one language of the world.

The International Phonetic Alphabet is cross-lingual; This means that the assignment of a character to a sound in a certain language is not necessarily identical to the sound assignment of the same character in the IPA. For example, the sign [⁠ ç ⁠] in IPA for the pronunciation of the letters ch "I", although it is the German word foreign to the German orthography; for the illustration of the pronunciation of French , whose spelling knows “ç” as a voiceless “s”, the character is not required.

The special characters of the IPA alphabet were included in Unicode in the range from U + 0250 to U + 02AF.


  front   central   back
Blank vowel trapezoid.svg
i  •  y
ɨ  •  ʉ
ɯ  •  u
ɪ  •  ʏ
e  •  ø
ɘ  •  ɵ
ɤ  •  o
ɛ  •  œ
ɜ  •  ɞ
ʌ  •  ɔ
a  •  ɶ
ɑ  •  ɒ
 almost closed
 half closed
 half open
 almost open
For pairs of symbols (u • g) the left symbol stands for the
unrounded vowel, the right symbol for the rounded vowel.
  front almost in
central almost in the
ung. ger. ung. ger. ung. ger. ung. ger. ung. ger.
closed i y     ɨ ʉ     ɯ u
almost closed     ɪ ʏ       ʊ    
half closed e O     ɘ ɵ     ɤ O
medium         ə        
half open ɛ œ     ɜ ɞ     ʌ ɔ
almost open æ       ɐ        
open a ɶ             ɑ ɒ

If the mouse pointer remains next to a character in its table cell, its Unicode value is displayed; if you point to the symbol, you get a short description as a tooltip .


A distinction must be made between different airflow mechanisms for the consonants .

The pulmonary consonants are generated with the outflowing breath (i.e. air from the lungs) ( pulmonary -egressive). Most consonants belong to this group. With ejectives and implosives , on the other hand, the air flow is generated by movements of the larynx. With ejectives, the larynx moves upwards so that air flows out (glottal-egressive); with the implosives it moves downwards, so that air flows in (glottal-ingressive). Clicks (sometimes referred to as "avulsives" or "clicks" in English) are created when the tongue and soft palate form a closed cavity that is enlarged by moving the tongue back and forth. When the cavity is opened, pressure equalization takes place (air flows in, therefore velar-ingressive), so that a sound is generated.

Pulmonary consonants

labial coronal dorsal radical laryngeal
bilabial labiodental dental alveolar postalveolar retroflex alveolo-palatal palatal velar uvular pharyngal glottal
stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth.
Plosives p b t d ʈ ɖ c ɟ k ɡ q ɢ ʔ
Fricatives ɸ β f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ ʂ ʐ ɕ ʑ ç ʝ x ɣ χ ʁ H ʕ H ɦ
lateral  fricatives ɬ ɮ
Nasals m ɱ n ɳ ɲ ŋ ɴ
Vibrants ʙ r ʀ
Taps / flaps ɾ ɽ
lateral flaps ɺ
Approximants ʋ ɹ ɻ j ɰ
lateral approximants l ɭ ʎ ʟ

If the mouse pointer remains next to a character in its table cell, its Unicode value is displayed; if you point to the symbol, you get a short description as a tooltip .

If necessary, the unvoiced consonant is on the left and the voiced consonant on the right .

Fields with a dark background indicate articulations that are physiologically impossible. For example, a glottal nasal is impossible because if the vocal folds are blocked, no air can escape through the nose, etc.

Non-pulmonary consonants

character Unicode code meaning
ʘ U + 0298 bilabial click
ǀ U + 01C0 dental click
ǃ U + 01C3 postalveolar click
ǂ U + 01C2 palatoalveolar click
ǁ U + 01C1 lateral alveolar click
character Unicode code meaning
ɓ U + 0253 voiced bilabial implosive
ɗ U + 0257 voiced dental / alveolar implosive
ʄ U + 0284 voiced palatal implosive
ɠ U + 0260 voiced velar implosive
ʛ U + 029B voiced uvular implosive
character Unicode code meaning
ʼ U + 02BC Diacritic, examples:
U + 0070 (p), U + 02BC bilabial ejective
U + 0074 (t), U + 02BC dental / alveolar ejective
k ' U + 006B (k), U + 02BC velar ejective
U + 0066 (f), U + 02BC labiodental ejective fricative
U + 0073 (s), U + 02BC alveolar ejective fricative

Other symbols

character Unicode code meaning
ʍ U + 028D voiceless labiovelar fricative
w U + 0077 (w) voiced labiovelar approximant
ɥ U + 0265 voiced labiopalatal approximant
ʜ U + 029C voiceless epiglottal fricative
ʢ U + 02A2 voiced epiglottal fricative
ʡ U + 02A1 voiceless epiglottal plosive
ɺ U + 027A voiced lateral alveolar flap
ɧ U + 0267 sj-sound ( [⁠ ʃ ⁠] and [⁠ x ⁠] at the same time)


Of the suprasegmental signs , the stress signs come in front of the syllable to which they refer, the length signs after.

character Unicode code meaning Examples
(No apostrophe ) U + 02C8 Main emphasis A pril [ a pʁɪl ], Ba blocks [ bakə ]
ˌ (no comma ) U + 02CC Secondary emphasis Water pfei fe [ ˈvasɐ ˌ p͡faɪ̯fə ], ringlet blu me [ ˈʁɪŋəl ˌ bluːmə ]
ː (no colon ) U + 02D0 long Lacquer [ lak ], lay [ la ː k ]
ˑ U + 02D1 half-length Beer [ biˑɐ̯ ] (often at Tiefschwas )
˘ U + 0306 extra short Study [ ˈʃtuːdi̯ʊm ]
. U + 002E (.) Syllable boundary Bo - te [ ˈboː . ], mu - se - um [ mu . ˈZeː . ʊm ]
| U + 007C (|) subordinate intonation group (speaking act limit) You are lucky, aren't you? [ ziː haːbən ↓ ɡlʏk | nɪçt ↑ vaːɐ̯ ]
U + 2016 superior intonation group
◌͡◌ or ◌͜◌ U + 035C or U + 0361 Double articulation black [ ʃvaʁt͜s ] or [ ʃvaʁt͡s ]

Tones and intonation

character Unicode code meaning Examples
̋ (double acute ) or ˥ U + 030B or U + 02E5 especially high [ ]
( Acute) or ˦ U + 0301 or U + 02E6 high [⁠ é ⁠]
̄ (macron) or ˧ U + 0304 or U + 02E7 medium [⁠ ē ⁠]
( Gravis) or ˨ U + 0300 or U + 02E8 low [⁠ è ⁠]
̏ (double engraving) or ˩ U + 030F or U + 02E9 particularly low [⁠ ȅ ⁠]
̌ (Hatschek) U + 030C increasing [⁠ ě ⁠]
( Caret) U + 0302 falling [⁠ ê ⁠]
U + A71C gradual downward / downstep  
U + A71B gradually upstep  
↗︎ U + 2197 General rise / global rise  
↘︎ U + 2198 General waste / global fall  


  • Unicode does not have its own characters for most contour tones. Instead, sequences of characters are used for register tones and the exact representation is left to the respective font, usually by OpenType rules: [ e᷇ ḕ̄ ] or [ e˥˧ e˧˩˨ ] (not displayed correctly in many browsers). Because only very few fonts allow the combination of register tone characters, the old system of tone marking with superscript numbers from "1" to "5" is often used, for example [e 53 e 312 ]. Their use, however, depends on local linguistic traditions; In Asian languages, “5” is used for the highest tone and “1” for the lowest, and vice versa for African languages. Occasionally an old IPA tradition can still be found, according to which the contour tones are indicated by diacritics below: [ e̖ e̗ ] for low-falling or low-rising.


character Unicode code meaning Examples
Phonation  (see also note at the end of the table)
subject to:  ̥ U + 0325

unvoiced , or entstimmt
unvoiced speech of a normally vote liable Loud such. B. because it is surrounded by two voiceless ones.

S ee [ z̥eː ] (southern German)
superior: ̊ U + 030A g ut [ ɡ̊uːt ] (southern German)
subject to: ̬ U + 032C

Voiced saying a normally vocal -less sound.

[ ], [ ]
superior : ̌ U + 030C [⁠ ǧ ⁠]
superior: ʰ U + 02B0 aspirated T asse [ ˈtʰasə ], [ ]
A more detailed description of the articulation of a vowel
subject to: ̹ U + 0339 more rounded [ ɔ̹ ]
superior : ͗ U + 0357
subject to: ̜ U + 031C less rounded [ ɔ̜ ]
superior : ͑ U + 0351
̟ U + 031F further ahead [ ]
̠ U + 0320 further back [ ]
̈ U + 0308 centralized [⁠ ë ⁠]
̽ U + 033D centralized to the center [ ]
̝ U + 031D raised [ ]
̞ U + 031E lowered [ ]
̘ U + 0318 forward tongue root [ ]
̙ U + 0319 back of the tongue [ ]

combined characters: ɚ (U + 025A), ɝ (U + 025D)

U + 02DE rhotic [⁠ ɚ ⁠]
More detailed description of the articulating organ in consonants
subject to: ̪ U + 032A dental [ ], [ ], [ ], [ ]
superior : ͆ U + 0346
̼ U + 033C linguolabial [ ], [ ]
̺ U + 033A apical [ ], [ ]
̻ U + 033B laminal [ ], [ ]
̃ U + 0303 nasalized Ch an ce [ ʃɑ̃ːsə ]
Additional formation
ʷ U + 02B7 labialized Gl Ueck [ gʷlʷʏkʰ ]
ʲ U + 02B2 palatalized [ ], [ ]
ˠ U + 02E0 velarized [ ], [ ]
ˁ U + 02C1 pharyngalized [ ], [ ]

combined characters: ɫ (U + 026B)

U + 0334 velarized or pharyngealized [⁠ ɫ ⁠]
ˀ U + 02C0 glottalized  
Type of closure solution for plosives
U + 207F nasal closure solution Re dn er [ ˈʁeːdⁿnɐ ]
ˡ U + 02E1 lateral closure solution Han dl ung [ handˡlʊŋ ]
̚ U + 031A no audible lock release sti mm t [ ˈʃtɪm̚t ]
subject to: ̩ U + 0329 syllabic red en [ ʁeːdn̩ ]
superior : ̍ U + 030D Reg en [ ˈʁeːgⁿŋ̍ ]
subject to: ̯ U + 032F non-syllabic akt u ell [ akˈtu̯ɛl ]
Lib y en [ ˈliːby̆ən ]
superior: ˘ U + 0311
Voice quality
subject to: ̤ U + 0324 breathes [ ], [ ]
superior : ̈ U + 0308
subject to: ̰ U + 0330 creaky [ ], [ ]
faced: U + 0303

Note: Whether characters with diacritics are equivalents to the respective other character of the articulation type and the articulation location has not been fully determined by the IPA . In the "Handbook of the International Phonetic Association" puts it: "It is debatable whether [ k ] and [⁠ g ⁠] phonetically identical sounds call, and the same applies to [⁠ s ⁠] and [ Z ]. May be in distinguishing between [ k ] and [⁠ g ⁠] or [⁠ s ⁠] and [ Z ] different dimensions involved, which are independent of vocal cord vibration, such as tension against laxness in the articulation, so that the ability to designate voicing separately becomes important. In any case, however, it can be advantageous if one is able to retain the lexical form of a word [...]. "

Characters with a descender can be marked with an overlaid diacritic. By default, however, subordinate diacritics should be used if both options exist.

Alternative notations

Older notations

The IPA is not the only system for notating speech sounds. In the course of time there have been a number of attempts to represent sounds more precisely than with conventional spelling. As early as 1855, the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius published his standard alphabet "for the representation of unwritten languages ​​and foreign sign systems in a uniform orthography in European letters". In 1863 the work was revised and published in English as well as in German. Contemporary texts on the sounds of human speech show that this standard alphabet was understood as phonetic transcription. Some of its characters have entered the IPA alphabet. For German transliterations (i.e. reproductions of the spelling), his distinction between differently articulated sibilants based on the Czech orthography was adopted, but not in the IPA phonetic transcription.

Alexander Melville Bell , on the other hand, presented an iconic notation in his Visible Speech system in 1867 , in which individual features of a sound (e.g. the roundness of the lips and the like) are represented in the character itself. Other attempts towards an illiterate notation were made by the linguists Otto Jespersen (1889) or Kenneth L. Pike (1943). Because the individual positions of the speaking tools can be specified independently of one another in these systems, sound nuances can be encoded much more finely.

The Teuthonista transcription is still common today in German and Romance dialectology . The Teuthonista was presented in 1924/25 by Hermann Teuchert in the dialectological journal Teuthonista and, with reference to Karl Richard Lepsius' standard alphabet, is essentially based on the Latin alphabet. Since similar proposals were presented in Romania by Graziadio Isaia Ascoli and Eduard Böhmer , the Teuthonista and the Böhmer-Ascoli transcriptions have largely coincided today.

IPA in language technology and the Internet: SAMPA, X-SAMPA and Kirshenbaum

With the notations SAMPA (for 7 European languages) and X-SAMPA (the SAMPA extension for the complete IPA), alphabets were developed by European phoneticians and language engineers as part of multilingual EU research projects in language technology in the 1980s, using their IPA symbols could be written in ASCII code. These notations, which exactly represent the IPA and are very common in language technology, serve the following purposes:

  • Exchange of phonetic data (transcription files and speech signal annotation files) in simple text form.
  • Simple programming processing of transcriptions in automatic speech recognition and speech synthesis.
  • Simple review and editing of phonetic data with simultaneous machine readability.
  • Keyboard-friendly entry of all sounds that can be represented with the IPA.

These notations were not designed for the general representation of the IPA in publications, but are often used in technical-scientific publications for data representation. For general publication purposes , including on the Internet, standardized Unicode character sets that are more text output than input oriented are better suited.

Independently of SAMPA and X-SAMPA, the similar Kirshenbaum alphabet was developed by Internet users in the early 1990s, but it did not catch on. In the USA, the "Klattbet" or the "Arpabet" are often used in language technology, primarily for the English language.

See also


  • Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0-521-65236-0 .
  • M. Duckworth, G. Allen, W. Hardcastle, MJ Ball: Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet for the transcription of atypical speech. In: Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics. Taylor & Francis, London 4.1990, pp. 273-280. ISSN  0269-9206
  • J. Alan Kemp: The history and development of a universal phonetic alphabet in the 19th century. From the beginnings to the establishment of the IPA. In: Sylvain Auroux, EFK Koerner, Hans-Josef Niederehe, Kees Versteegh (eds.): History of the Language Sciences. History of Linguistics. Histoire des sciences du langage. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2001, ISBN 3-11-016735-2 , pp. 1572–1584.
  • William A. Ladusaw and Geoffrey Pullum : Phonetic Symbol Guide. University of Chicago Press, 1996, ISBN 0-226-68535-7 .

Web links

Commons : International Phonetic Alphabet  - album of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: International Phonetic Alphabet  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: IPA  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. cf. PT Daniels, W. Bright (Eds.): The World's Writing Systems , New York & Oxford, 1996, pp. 821-46.
  2. History of the IPA , accessed August 19, 2016
  3. John Esling: Computer coding of the IPA: Supplementary Report . Journal of the International Phonetic Association, Vol. 20 (1), 1990.
  4. K.-H. Ramers: Phonology. In: J. Meibauer [ua] (Hrsg.): Introduction to German linguistics. Metzler, Stuttgart 2002, pp. 70-120.