Standard Alphabet by Lepsius

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The Standard Alphabet by Lepsius is a Latin alphabet developed by Karl Richard Lepsius, who initially used it to transcribe Egyptian hieroglyphs[1] and extended it to write African languages or transcribe other languages, published in 1854[2] and 1855,[3] and in a revised edition (with many languages added) in 1863,[4] it was comprehensive but it was not used much as it contains a lot of diacritic marks and therefore was difficult to read, write and typeset at that time.


Vowel length is indicated by a macron (ā) or a breve (ă) for long and short vowels, respectively. Open vowels are marked by a line under the letter (), while a dot below the letter makes it a close vowel (). Central vowels are indicated by a corner (˻) below (not supported by Unicode). Rounded front vowels, especially [ø] and [y] are written with an umlaut (ö and ü), either on top or below, when the space above the letter is needed for vowel length marks (as in ṳ̄ or ṳ̆). As in the International Phonetic Alphabet, nasal vowels get a tilde (ã). A small circle below a letter is used to mark both the schwa () and syllabic consonants ( or , for instance). Diphthongs do not receive any special marking, they are simply juxtaposed (au).


S.A. IPA Name
ʼ [ʔ] glottal stop
[ʕ] voiced pharyngeal fricative
h [h] voiceless glottal fricative
hʿ [ħ] voiceless pharyngeal fricative
q [q] voiceless uvular plosive
k [k] voiceless velar plosive
g [ɡ] voiced velar plosive
[ŋ] velar nasal
χ [x] voiceless velar fricative
γ [ɣ] voiced velar fricative
[ʀ] uvular trill
[c] voiceless palatal plosive
[ɟ] voiced palatal plosive
ń [ɲ] palatal nasal
χ́ [ç] voiceless palatal fricative
š [ʃ] voiceless postalveolar fricative
š́ [ɕ] voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative
γ́ [ʝ] voiced palatal fricative
ž [ʒ] voiced postalveolar fricative
ž́ [ʑ] voiced alveolo-palatal fricative
y [j] palatal approximant
[ʎ] palatal lateral approximant
[ʈ] voiceless retroflex plosive
[ɖ] voiced retroflex plosive
[ɳ] retroflex nasal
ṣ̌ [ʂ] voiceless retroflex fricative
ẓ̌ [ʐ] voiced retroflex fricative
[ɽ] retroflex flap
[ɭ] retroflex lateral approximant
[tˤ] pharyngealized voiceless alveolar plosive
[dˤ] pharyngealized voiced alveolar plosive
[sˤ] pharyngealized voiceless alveolar fricative
[zˤ] pharyngealized voiced alveolar fricative
δ̱ [ðˤ] pharyngealized voiced dental fricative
t [t] voiceless alveolar plosive
d [d] voiced alveolar plosive
n [n] alveolar nasal
s [s] voiceless alveolar fricative
z [z] voiced alveolar fricative
θ [θ] voiceless dental fricative
δ [ð] voiced dental fricative
r [r] alveolar trill
l [l] alveolar lateral approximant
p [p] voiceless bilabial plosive
b [b] voiced bilabial plosive
m [m] bilabial nasal
f [f] voiceless bilabial fricative
v [v] voiced bilabial fricative
w [w] labial-velar approximant
ǀ[5] [ǀ] dental click
ǀ̣ [ǃ] alveolar click
ǀǀ [ǁ] lateral click
ǀ́ [ǂ] palatal click

To mark aspiration and affricates, the corresponding letters are simply written next to each other, thus kh in Lepsius' Standard Alphabet would be [kʰ] in IPA and would be [t͡ʃ]. For palatalization, the character ʹ is used, so is [pʲ] in IPA. Ejective consonants are sometimes written as double letters, although this could be mixed up with long consonants.


Tone is marked with and acute or grave accent to the right of the corresponding vowel. Tone is not written directly, but rather needs to be established separately for each language. For example, the acute accent may indicate a high tone, a rising tone, or, in the case of Chinese, any tone called "rising" (上) for historical reasons.

S.A. Level value Contour value
ma´ [6] [má] [mǎ]
ma [mā]
ma` [mà] [mâ]

Low rising and falling tones can be distinguished from high rising and falling tones by underlining the accent mark: ma´̠, ma`̠. The underline also transcribes the Chinese yin tones, under the mistaken impression that these tones are actually lower. Two additional tone marks, without any defined phonetic value, are used for Chinese: "level" maˏ (平) and checked maˎ (入); these may also be underlined.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lepsius 1849
  2. ^ Lepsius 1854
  3. ^ Lepsius 1855
  4. ^ Lepsius 1863
  5. ^ The four click letters are based on a vertical pipe without ascender or descender (that is, the height of the letter n). In some fonts, such as that used for Krönlein's Khoekhoe grammar, they have the height of the letter t.
  6. ^ In Lepsius's publications, this looks like a vertical bar ˈ. However, it is repeatedly called "acute" in the text.
  • Lepsius, C. R. 1849. Denkmäler aus Ägypten un Äthiopien.
  • Lepsius, C. R. 1854. Das allgemeine linguistische Alphabet: Grundsätze der Übertragung fremder Schriftsysteme und bisher noch ungeschriebener Sprachen in europäische Buchstaben. Berlin: Verlag von Wilhelm Hertz [1]
  • Lepsius, C. R. 1855. Das allgemeine linguistische Alphabet: Grundsätze der Übertragung fremder Schriftsysteme und bisher noch ungeschriebener Sprachen in europäische Buchstaben. Berlin: Verlag von Wilhelm Hertz.
  • Lepsius, C. R. 1863. Standard Alphabet for Reducing Unwritten Languages and Foreign Graphic Systems to a Uniform Orthography in European Letters, 2nd rev. edn. John Benjamins, Amsterdam. [2] (full text available on Google Books)
  • Faulmann, Carl 1880. Das Buch der Schrift enthaltend die Schriftzeichen und Alphabete aller Zeiten und aller Völker des Erdkreises, 2nd rev. edn. Kaiserlich-königliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, Wien.
  • Köhler, O., Ladefoged, P., J. Snyman, Traill, A., R. Vossen: The Symbols for Clicks.