Uralic Phonetic Alphabet
The Uralic Phonetic Alphabet (UPA) or Finno-Ugric transcription system is a phonetic transcription or notational system used predominantly for the transcription and reconstruction of Uralic languages. It was first published in 1901 by Eemil Nestor Setälä, a Finnish linguist.
Unlike the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) notational standard which concentrates on accurately and uniquely transcribing the phonemes of a language, the UPA is also used to denote the functional categories of a language, as well as their phonetic quality. For this reason, it is not possible to automatically convert a UPA transcription into an IPA one.
Unlike the IPA, which is usually transcribed with upright characters, the UPA is usually transcribed with italic characters. Although many of its characters are also used in standard Latin, Greek, Cyrillic orthographies or the IPA, and are found in the corresponding Unicode blocks, many are not. These have been encoded in the Phonetic Extensions and Phonetic Extensions Supplement blocks. Font support for these extended characters is very rare; Code2000 and Fixedsys Excelsior are two fonts that do support them. A professional font containing them is Andron Mega; it supports UPA characters in Regular and Italics.
Other vowels are denoted using diacritics.
The UPA also uses three characters to denote a vowel of uncertain quality:
- ɜ denotes a vowel of uncertain quality;
- ᴕ denotes a back vowel of uncertain quality;
- ᴕ̈ denotes a front vowel of uncertain quality
If a distinction between close-mid vowels and open-mid vowels is needed, the IPA symbols for the open-mid basic front illabial and back labial vowels, ⟨ɛ⟩ and ⟨ɔ⟩, can be used. However, in keeping with the principles of the UPA, the open-mid front labial and back illabial vowels are still transcribed with the addition of diacritics, as ⟨ɔ̈⟩ and ⟨ɛ̮⟩.
The following table describes the consonants of the UPA. Note that the UPA does not distinguish voiced fricatives from approximants, and does not contain many characters of the IPA such as [ɹ].
|Prepalatal (palatalised or anterior)||ḱ||ɢ́||ǵ||χ́||j||ᴎ́||ŋ́|
When there are two or more consonants in a column, the rightmost one is voiced; when there are three, the centre one is partially devoiced.
Differences from IPA
A major difference is that IPA notation allows distinguishing between phonetic and phonemic transcription, by enclosing the transcription between either brackets [aɪ pʰiː eɪ] or slashes /ai pi e/. UPA has no corresponding standard, and context must be relied upon to distinguish the closeness of transcription.
For phonetic transcription, numerous small differences from IPA come into relevance:
- UPA e, o denote mid vowels with no particular bias towards open or close, as are found in most Uralic languages. IPA [e], [o] denote close-mid vowels in particular, common in Romance and West Germanic languages.
- Being designed for languages largely featuring vowel harmony, UPA has no simple way to denote a basic, backness-ambiguous schwa sound, IPA [ə]. ə denotes a reduced form of e, corresponding with IPA [e̽]. A further backing diacritic must be appended, resulting in ə̑. (This may also stand for a reduced form of e̮, corresponding with IPA [ɤ̽]; a distinction rarely encountered in practice.)
- For the voiced dental fricative, UPA uses a Greek delta δ, while IPA uses the letter eth [ð]. In UPA, eth ð stands for an alveolar tap, IPA [ɾ].
- UPA uses Greek chi χ for the voiceless velar fricative. In IPA, [χ] stands for a voiceless uvular fricative, while the velar counterpart is [x] (a symbol unused in UPA).
- UPA uses small caps for voiceless or devoiced sounds (ᴀ ʙ ᴅ ɢ ᴇ…), while in IPA, these frequently occur as distinct basic character denoting entirely separate sounds (e.g. [ʙ ɢ ʟ ɴ]).
- UPA does not systematically distinguish approximants from fricatives. j may stand for both the palatal approximant (IPA [j]) or the voiced palatal fricative (IPA [ʝ]), v may stand for both the labiodental approximant (IPA [ʋ]) or the voiced labiodental fricative (IPA [v]), β may stand for the bilabial approximant (IPA [β̞]), the voiced bilabial fricative (IPA [β]), or in broad transcription even the labiovelar approximant (IPA [w]).
- UPA lacks a series of palatal consonants: these must be transcribed by either palatalized alveolar or palatalized velar symbols. Thus ń may correspond to either IPA [nʲ] or [ɳ].
|Close-mid back rounded vowel||o̭||[o]|
|Mid back rounded vowel||o||[o̞] or [ɔ̝]|
|Open-mid back rounded vowel||o̬ or å̭||[ɔ]|
|Voiced dental fricative||δ||[ð]|
|Voiceless alveolar lateral approximant||ʟ||[l̥]|
|Velar lateral approximant||л||[ʟ]|
|Voiceless alveolar nasal||ɴ||[n̥]|
This section contains some sample words from both Uralic languages and English (using Australian English) along with comparisons to the IPA transcription.
- Setälä, E. N. (1901). "Über transskription der finnisch-ugrischen sprachen". Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen. Helsingfors, Leipzig (1): 15–52.
- Sovijärvi, Antti; Peltola, Reino (1970). "Suomalais-ugrilainen tarkekirjoitus" (PDF). Helsingin yliopiston fonetiikan laitoksen julkaisuja. University of Helsinki (9).
- Posti, Lauri; Itkonen, Terho (1973). "FU-transkription yksinkertaistaminen. Az FU-átírás egyszerüsítése. Zur Vereinfachung der FU-Transkription. On Simplifying of the FU-transcription". Castrenianumin toimitteita. University of Helsinki (7). ISBN 951-45-0282-5. ISSN 0355-0141.