Talk:International Phonetic Alphabet

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Good article International Phonetic Alphabet has been listed as one of the Language and literature good articles under the good article criteria. If you can improve it further, please do so. If it no longer meets these criteria, you can reassess it.
See Wikipedia:Manual of Style (pronunciation) for the style guide on the English Wikipedia regarding the use of IPA symbols.
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Criticisms and/or Limitations[edit]

Hi. I know very little about IPA but I have a question about this article. The claim is made that IPA is "a standardized representation of the sounds of oral language." (see lede). Well, first does this mean ALL of the sounds? If not, then the sentence is misleading, if so, then I think it overreaches. You can't represent all of the sounds of many "oral languages" with a finite alphabet, can you? Specifically, any two 'similar' sounds having a different representation will have a variable number of possible intermediate sounds between them, which by definition IPA can't capture. This may or may not be relevant - IF it has been shown that IPA is both necessary and complete for the pronunciation for ALL of a speaker's words and sentences. But I doubt this has been done for all of the world's languages. This is objection/question one. Problem two is the well known (if I know it, then it must be well known) difference between a word in isolation and a word in a context. Most words vary in their sound depending on context (leading and following phonemes? blend with the phoneme). This means that there is NOT a unique pronunciation of ANY word. Putting it another way: how well does IPA cover oral languages? Next issue: does IPA extend to any non-Homo language? Its obvious, that it can't cover ANY language with audio signals outside of human hearing, but we have the problem of the difference between vocalizations and hearing, I'm not sure the former is a subset of the latter or do both sets have disjoint elements? (ie. there are vocalizations which can't be heard and, more obviously, sounds which can't be vocalized). If it is true that some languages include sounds which are NOT represented by the IPA, then this should be noted up-front. Same with IPA+Extension. Anyway, I am under the impression that the electronically recorded signal of oral language is the only accurate "representation" of what was said. IPA is clearly NOT that. (Nor is it the perceived sound, but that is impossible (afaik) to determine.) My point is that this article lacks a discussion of the qualifications and limitations of the IPA, which are surely known to some extent (my guess is to a pretty good extent). Other questions involve its use in non-IndoEuropean cultures. Do Chinese speech pathologists use it in their publications, for example? Is "attack" part of IPA "intonation"? How well are duration, vocal fry, nasal, and other influences captured? Its too bad that an expert isn't available for editing, but surely the science/engineering design of electronic voice synthesis MUST have a great deal to say about this, and surely a lot of that has been written and is accessible. (talk) 22:13, 24 September 2015 (UTC)

Hello 216! Let me try to answer your questions one by one:
All sounds
Yes, that's what it means in the sense of all sounds that make sense to distinguish. There are in fact diacritics that can be used to distinguish intermediate sounds, in the few cases when that is necessary. That said, there are some distinctions that are not standardized yet; this typically happens when a linguist researches a language and finds that a distinction is meaningful in a language that has not found to be meaningful before. That's why I wouldn't write "all" in that sentence. But, yes, it is possible to represent all sounds of oral languages with a finite alphabet.
Yes, pronunciation of words varies depending on context. That can be covered by IPA without a problem, but it doesn't have to be, and is not necessary for most standard situations. Whether to do that or not is not part of the standard, any more than it is whether you write A♯ or B♭ in standard musical notation.
Non-human languages
IPA is not intended for those.
Non-European languages
If you read the article, you can see that those are covered with IPA. While IPA was not devised for speech pathologists, I see no reason to assume that IPA can't be used by Chinese speech pathologists.
Electronically recorded
No recording, whether electronic or analog, is completely accurate. Neither is any notation system, either. That holds for language just as for music. It is a general limitation that has nothing to do with IPA in particular.
How well are ... captured
Well enough for the purposes listed in the article. Also, please note that "representation" does not necessarily mean "capturing".
Voice synthesis aspects
IPA does not claim to be a complete system to contain all information needed for voice synthesis.
Not sure what you mean by "attack". Are you referring to the term used for ADSR envelope? Would you have an example for when that is a relevant distinction for spoken language that is not already inherent in the distinction between initial consonants?
Your main point seems to be that you miss coverage of limitations in the article. Your examples cover limitations that are par for the course; they remind me of someone demanding that a motor vehicle article should cover the fact that a car can't (normally) fly. If you have any specific sourced information on limitations (especially for the "how well are ... captured" questions), you are cordially invited to add that. I'll be happy to help you with that. — Sebastian 17:36, 28 September 2015 (UTC)
I think Sebastian answers the question fairly well, but I'd qualify the answer somewhat. It is true that the IPA uses a finite set of symbols to represent points on an infinite space. For instance, there are more possible points between a high-front vowel and a high-mid front vowel than can be represented using the tools of the IPA. But this doesn't matter, because you only need enough symbols to distinguish the sounds that the world's languages distinguish. There's no language, for example, that distinguishes ten different vowels between [i] and [e], so the IPA doesn't need a means of making that many distinctions. Of course this means that the same symbol may represent slightly different sounds in different contexts. The symbol [r] (even if in square brackets) should not be taken to represent precisely the same sound every time it's used. As Sebastian says, if you need to make a finer grained comparison of two given sounds, you have diacritics to help you out. In any case, I think what the anonymous poster is pointing out is that no IPA representation of speech, however detailed, could provide enough information to allow the original speech to be played off. But that's not what's meant by "a standardized representation of the sounds of oral language." What's meant is that you have all the tools you need to distinguish the sounds of the world's languages, and that's pretty accurate. Garik (talk) 02:11, 29 September 2015 (UTC)
But also, the OP's reference to audio recordings completely misses the point. A transcription of a language is there to capture generalisations: so when a young girl says [ˈzdrastvʊjtʲə] (or /bɔ̃.ʒuʁ/) in a high shrill voice, speakers of Russian (or French) recognise this as "the same as" a gruff male growling [ˈzdrastvʊjtʲə] (or /bɔ̃.ʒuʁ/), even though the audio recordings would be utterly different. Imaginatorium (talk) 13:13, 29 September 2015 (UTC)
Precisely. Garik (talk) 13:20, 29 September 2015 (UTC)

Thanks for your helpful and thoughtful responses! Am I wrong in thinking that in order to match an audio recording of a single "word" to a specific IPA expression that all three of the following requirements must be met?

1. The IPA representation must explicitly or implicitly be tagged with the language it is encoding.
2. The listener/reader must be proficient in speaking that language.
3. The listener/reader must be proficient in using IPA specifically FOR THAT LANGUAGE.

I've seen several sources that make the claim that a given IPA symbol string is generally NOT unique unless the language is specified. I've also seen several sources which claim that there are nuances which are NOT captured by IPA and which require a proficient speaker of the langugage to decode from the IPA symbol string into a word/sound. I think that I'm not alone coming to this article thinking that IPA is an unambiguous way to encode the oral languages of the world, and it is not. If I understand correctly, two IPA experts may disagree when given the same symbol string. (I assume they could also encode the "same" word sound with significantly different strings). If I'm correct, then I think the lede should state that. Specifically, that IPA is language dependent and it may not fully encode a given oral word. It may or may not be helpful to point out that Wikipedia (en) points to the English IPA table (rather than "THE" IPA table). Oh, it may also be worthwhile to mention that no general IPA to sound algorithm exists. (Which is what I came looking for, originally.) Thanks again! (talk) 18:49, 7 November 2015 (UTC)

"The IPA" itself is completely untied to languages, so it makes no sense to say it's language-dependent. It can sometimes be used in language-specific fashions, such as when using it phonemically (and not phonetically). That the IPA may not fully encode a given oral word is not the same thing as it being language dependent. It can't fully encode a given oral word simply because it's not a recording: only a perfect sound recording can achieve that. The IPA only provides an abstract representation of sound. An IPA-to-sound algorithm could in theory certainly exist, and in fact, there are certain speech synthesizers that come close. It would not, however, sound exactly like a native speaker of any language.
And to address your three points explicitly:
  1. No, in a phonetic IPA representation, there is no need to explicitly or implicitly specify a language; it could even be gibberish not in any human language, and yet it could be spoken from the IPA representation. This is not the case with a phonemic representation, though, which a language does need to be associated with.
  2. No, someone can read a phonetic IPA string if they are proficient in IPA, although of course, they may not be able to read it as quickly and fluently as someone who knows that string as a word in a human language.
  3. No, same as above.
LjL (talk) 19:01, 7 November 2015 (UTC)

I have a criticism: IPA is incredibly hard to learn for beginners. Even though that is really hard to fix, I thought I might put that out there. NewbTopolis Rex (talk) 01:28, 29 March 2016 (UTC)

We all started out as beginners. That's no argument. It's not harder than learning a new language with different spelling rules. -- (talk) 00:51, 23 July 2016 (UTC)

New revision (2015)[edit] --Petreleon (talk) 12:51, 16 March 2016 (UTC)

@Petreleon: Read this: "The 2015 chart makes minor changes to wording and layout, but otherwise reproduces the appearance of the 2005 chart." Love —LiliCharlie (talk) 14:24, 16 March 2016 (UTC)
As the 2015 chart was published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License I have uploaded it to the Commons and it is now in the article. Love —LiliCharlie (talk) 15:03, 16 March 2016 (UTC)

On including IPA charts that are not the IPA chart[edit]

We've long included a chart that is the concoction of one single WP editor -- a clear NOR violation, in my opinion. As of 2015, the IPA chart is distributed on a public licence in fully accurate form. So really, now is the time for us to go with just that single chart, which definitionally is the IPA. (N.B.: we include extensive discussion of alternative symbols elsewhere on WP.) I hope the editor who created the concocted chart will understand. BrucePHayes (talk) 20:23, 16 March 2016 (UTC)

@BrucePHayes: I take issue with one point: The IPA is not the IPA chart. It's the set of symbols that the chart summarizes. This is easily demonstrated by the IPA Handbook, which uses symbols that are not included on the chart but can nonetheless be understood by anyone who recognizes that the chart is merely a summary of the IPA.
Part of the rationale of the official IPA chart is to save space so it all fits on a page, and students are often mislead by the compromises needed to accomplish that. So e.g. students often think epiglottals, alveolo-palatals and the lateral flap are not regular pulmonic consonants because they don't occur in the pulmonic consonant section of the chart, when the actual reason they're not there is that we'd need a smaller font size to accommodate the extra rows and columns and that would make the chart harder to read. And then there's tone: if you took the official chart at face value, you'd think it listed the tone letters of the IPA when in fact it only provides a sample. (Unless you're going to argue that the IPA is truly so deficient that it is incapable of transcribing a mid-falling tone!) This has practical consequences. For example, IPA Braile only distinguishes those tones found on the IPA chart and thus is not able to transcribe the IPA Handbook without recourse to nonce symbols. This article is not about the IPA chart, it's about the IPA, and a little variety in our approach may be needed to adequately convey that topic. — kwami (talk) 07:15, 23 August 2016 (UTC)

Thank you for your courteously worded remarks. If I could make a few points in reply:

  • It is true that the IPA is not the IPA chart. The International Phonetic Association also provides its Handbook to provide additional information on what the symbols mean.
  • As a phonetics teacher, I want my students who visit this article to encounter legitimate, authentic information about IPA transcription, which will reflect what the Association says about it. I do not want the novel creations of WP editors to appear, since they are likely to be mistaken by my students for authentic IPA. The Wikipedia policies of WP:NOR and WP:VER are plainly relevant here.
  • Those interested in reforming the IPA (addressing, perhaps, the issues you raise), should join the Association and lobby from within. Everyone is free to join and the dues are not that substantial.

Sincerely, BrucePHayes (talk) 20:32, 23 August 2016 (UTC)

@BrucePHayes: The IPA chart of consonants on this page was not the work of one editor. See Template talk:IPA consonant chart for the related discussions, including the one that led to the addition of affricates. — Eru·tuon 18:40, 24 August 2016 (UTC)

Yes, and there are no reforms to the IPA in that IPA chart. The changes are only in how the chart is presented, and that's not a matter of OR. E.g., including pulmonic consonants in the pulmonic-consonant section of the chart, or noting that the sample of tone letters is only a sample, provides clarity to our coverage of the IPA and in no way affects the IPA itself. (Except for the greyed-out letters, though most of those are now included in the 2012 extIPA.) It's also clear from the section title that this is not the presentation of the chart by the IPA. — kwami (talk) 04:22, 27 August 2016 (UTC)

IPA for beginners?[edit]

How do I make a pronunciation guide with the IPA? No, I'm serious. I can't figure out some of the sounds, the sounds on the website are annoying, and they are confusing because it's never just one sound. Is there a way to make this page easy to understand for people who have very little clue what the IPA means or how to use it? NewbTopolis Rex (talk) 01:19, 29 March 2016 (UTC)

I'm not sure what you want to achieve. Maybe you can consult Help:IPA for English first, then move on to Help:IPA. If you want to learn IPA more thoroughly you won't be able to do so by imitation alone, but will have to learn to control the movements of your speech organs (see Articulatory phonetics and Some low-tech means of observing your articulators). Ian Catford's A Practical Introduction to Phonetics is a very helpful reader with "experiments" for self study, though I recommend the help of a teacher. — As to your proposal to change this page please read WP:NOTHOWTO. Love —LiliCharlie (talk) 02:14, 29 March 2016 (UTC)
@NewbTopolis Rex: Which language are you trying to make an IPA for? Is it for English or some other language? --BrianJ34 (talk) 04:44, 12 November 2016 (UTC)

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The second example of less rounded, ◌̜, is "xʷ̜ ". Is this right? Should the diacritic go under the "w" or the "x"? Jimp 04:11, 15 April 2016 (UTC)

Under the w. [x] isn't rounded to begin with. — kwami (talk) 06:52, 23 August 2016 (UTC)