Talk:International Phonetic Alphabet/Archive 6

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"Usage" Section -- brackets

The Usage section of the article describes brackets being used with [...] meaning "more specific" and /.../ meaning "less specific".

Today is not /.../ gaining more the sense of the (phonemological) "underlying structure" and [...] the sense of the (physiological-audiological) "actual uttered sound"?

For example, the Russian series spelled "ТЯ" is phonemologically /tja/ and the Russian series spelled "ТьА" is phonemologically /tʲa/. That is "Т" + "Я" "means" something different than "Ть" + "А". But they are both audiologically [tja] (or [tʲa]) .

So the [...] notation is actually less "specific" here than the /.../ notation.

I'm talking about a kind of Chomskian "underlying structure" vs. "surface features" which seems to be only slowly and unevenly oozing into the consciousness of phoneticians at large... —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 15:12, 25 December 2006 (UTC).

I've understood proper usage of slashes to be employed in underlying representation (UR), or a representation that is only as specific as minimal pairs in a language can lead us to deduce. A common example would be the fact that in English an unvoiced aspirated bilabial stop is an allophone to the same stop unaspirated. There are phonological rules regarding English pron that cause /p/ to be rendered [ph] in words like "pen" [phen]and "paper," ['pheI.pə] but not in "spin" [spIn]. Nonetheless, the phonemic representation, UR (underlying representation), for these words in English will not include the aspirated sign for the "p" sound because aspiration is not distinctive on stops for English (/pen/, /peI.pə/, /spIn/). It is in this sense that UR (between the slashes) is less specific than PR (phonetic representation, brackets), that UR is accounting only for phonemes (what is minimally distinctive), while PR transcribes an example of linguistic performance to the specificity that the transcriber desires (within the confines of IPA symbols and diacritics). Joshua Crowgey 07:59, 5 March 2007 (UTC)

Missing dark l

The dark l (IPA [ɫ]) seems to be almost completely missing from the main article (besides a passing mention under Co-articulation diacritics). It does have its own article Velarized_alveolar_lateral_approximant and is part of the Other laterals section of the summary IPA table that appears at the bottom of every individual IPA letter article. I would put this in my self but am uncertain where it should go without breaking the flow of the article so for the time being I'll leave it to someone else to decide but I will give it a go eventually if it doesn't get looked at. Cheers guys -- Het 17:03, 26 December 2006 (UTC)

Well, it's probably because [ɫ] isn't really a separate IPA symbol; it's just the regular lateral symbol [l] with the superimposed swung dash diacritic, which can be used to mark velarization of any consonant as an alternative to [ˠ]. —Angr 17:16, 26 December 2006 (UTC)
Hmmm. That eventually became clear to me (not as a direct investigation of the dark l however). Perhaps a brief mention to the effect of your reply here might be useful in the main article, if nothing else then as a potential clarification. -- Het 18:29, 26 December 2006 (UTC)

IPA IS meaningless to the majority of casual Wikipedia users (again)

This is my first visit to this talk page. However, if I were particularly cynical I would think that it keeps getting archived in order to try and hide the previous discussions of the validity of routine use of IPA in Wikipedia. None of the previous arguments in support of IPA will make any sense whatsoever to the vast majority of Wikipedia users who make casual use of Wikipedia articles. To suggest, as has been written a number of times, that it is well worth the time to spend 45 minutes learning some IPA is nonsense. It is akin to suggesting that all readers of Wikipedia should spend 45 minutes learning some HTML so that they can better understand how its web pages are formatted. I can see no problem with replacing all Wikipedia uses of IPA with sound links (using some suitable standard, e.g. Ogg Vorbis) recorded by people who know how to pronounce words in articles (in as many dialects as required). This is easy to do as sound input is a common feature of computer hardware/software and has been for sometime, Freeware sound encoders are easy to find and the task can be performed by anyone who knows the “correct” pronunciation whether they understand IPA or not. For graphical interfaces, there is a well-known term WYSIWYG for What You See Is What You Get. It seems that we also need WYHIWYG for What You Hear Is What You Get and IPA most definitely does not have this property. However, just to give you IPA buffs something to do – why don’t you amuse yourselves trying to work out the IPA for WYHIWYG and then I’ll record its correct pronunciation for you. [Anonymous because anonymity is important]

Many articles already have this sound bit you write of (especially non-english names in biographies). And, we archive discussions to save space on the page, not censor editors. You'll find all old discussions in this page's archives. We use IPA because it is a pronunciation guide that does not skew across languages and dialects. For example, the standard british dialect (Received Pronunciation) and the standard American one (General American) often pronounce long and short vowels very differently (consider the way "o" is said between the two). Any scheme pertaining to a "sounds like" or "rhymes with" system will ultimately fail when an editor inadvertently uses a word that is said differently between dialects. We don't intend to compromise our accuracy in order to make things more simple, because we'd risk being wrong that way. We have no intention of keeping secrets from you, it's just that we need to order things with a standard. Internationally, IPA is the most widely accepted system. If you can't read IPA, IPA chart for English is a great place to start learning. But in the end, if you want to know, you must also want to learn. The ikiroid (talk·desk·Advise me) 02:01, 30 December 2006 (UTC)
This talk page is for discussing improvements to the article about the International Phonetic Alphabet. This is not the appropriate venue for discussing the use of the IPA on Wikipedia. The place to discuss that is Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (pronunciation). —Angr 09:31, 30 December 2006 (UTC)
I agree. Is it worth moving this thread, though? The ikiroid (talk·desk·Advise me) 05:56, 31 December 2006 (UTC)
The IPA doesn't deem any dialect 'right', it can be as exact (phonetic) or vague (phonemic) as necessary. What rimes in my English might not rime in Angr's English or Ikiroid's English.Cameron Nedland 14:49, 2 February 2007 (UTC)

Footnote-style referencing

A large majority of the description sections on letters, diacritics and suprasegmentals are missing footnote-references. I have a copy of the Handbook of the IPA which I can use to specifically cite most of this content, however, is citing the same source over and over a good idea? The ikiroid (talk·desk·Advise me) 06:00, 31 December 2006 (UTC)

I don't see why not. If you don't care about citing page numbers, just write <ref name=IPAHandbook>{{cite book|blah blah blah}}</ref> the first time and then <ref name=IPAHandbok /> each time after that, and all footnotes will point to the same reference. —Angr 13:59, 31 December 2006 (UTC)

Cite 32 Questionable

I have to question the legitimacy and credibility of the work referred to in cite 32, "Canepari, Luciano (2005). “The Official IPA & other notations”, A Handbook of Phonetics (PDF), Lincom Europea."

This work is highly unacademic, full of language and punctuation anomalies, and contains arguments that are simply puerile. For these reasons, I don't believe it's suitable to back up any claim about what "some linguists" believe. If this viewpoint is truly held by some non-trivial group of linguists, there must be credible academic papers expressing this view somewhere. If they do indeed exist, one of them should be cited. If not, I would remove the "Criticism" section until a legitimate cite is found.

A few brief examples for my statement that this work is not credible:


The author writes (p. 84): "This is the reason why, although offIPA is better than any other <phonetic alphabet>, its limitations spontaneously call to mind the negative feelings connected to off in various phrases, as for instance an off day – quite different, of course, from a day off."

Such an "argument" would elicit rolled eyes and groans if used by a small-town newspaper sports columnist. Seeing it on the page of an allegedly serious academic book is simply mind-blowing. Enough to make one wish that books, and not just papers, had to meet peer-review standards.

Highly unacademic

Just count the astonishing number of exclamation points and instances of the word "absurd" and its synonyms. If you've read more than two or three academic papers in your life, you'll immediately notice something: academics just don't write this way.


Angle brackets are used instead of quotation marks, either single (standard in most British conventions) or double (US style). I've yet to find any national variant of English in which this is acceptable usage. This makes one wonder if the work cited was even edited.

[EDIT: Let me add one more example, from p. 90: "¿How many people in the whole world then can not read or write, although they speak their tongue as <perfect natives>?". The Spanish opening question mark in an English text?! This book simply reeks of being self-published and unedited.]

Finally, it's rather hard to avoid questioning the intentions and seriousness of anyone who attacks something (the IPA in this case) with the intention of replacing it with a new version... named after himself! (the "canIPA", or "Canepari IPA"). This is roughly equivalent to an astronomer trying to get a telescope named after himself (Hubble was quite dead before someone else proposed naming the famed space telescope after him) or a president trying to get his own picture on a coin or bill.

I don't disagree that the IPA can be improved. I just don't think that this source is even a remotely credible one for the assertion that "some linguists" believe... anything. Steve Fishboy 06:17, 31 January 2007 (UTC)

I agree this does not constitute a reliable source. —Angr 13:57, 31 January 2007 (UTC)
If author == linguist and author = believes "something", then some linguists believe "something". Doesn't matter how crappy his writing is...-Ravedave (Adopt a State) 16:46, 31 January 2007 (UTC)
Yes, but if author = crackpot with highly idiosyncratic views, we're under no obligation to include them, no matter what position he holds. —Angr 20:13, 31 January 2007 (UTC)
IANALinguist, so I can't decide if he is a crackpot or not. If we have another lingust calling him a crackpot that might be good enough. -Ravedave (Adopt a State) 20:38, 31 January 2007 (UTC)

Apparently he's Professor of phonetics at the University of Venice. There's a review of the book by Daniele Vitali (2006) Language Problems and Language Planning 30/2: 193-195. I agree that it's very bizarrely written, and if a better source can be found then it should be substituted (or at least added). However, it does seem to be legit inasmuch as it's published and he is a real academic. On a slightly different note, I'm confused by the claim that the IPA is really a phonemic alphabet, not a phonetic one. Surely it can be used phonetically as well as phonemically. garik 17:10, 31 January 2007 (UTC)

The IPA journal has a review of one of his earlier books (I think around the time that the IPA was going through its 1989 revision). If I remember correctly, the reviewer liked Canepari's vowel organization over the IPA but disliked the very small differences in symbol shape that would be difficult to write by hand. The current book is obviously hastily translated from Italian. The IPA is used for both phonetic and phonemic transcription. MacMahon (1996) calls it a "selective" phonetic alphabet since it only assigns a distinct symbol to a sound when it is in contrast with another sound in at least one language (although it doesnt do so consistently as Canepari points out). Non-phonemic distinctions are recorded via diacritics (again inconsistently). Whatever the view is of Canepari's writing style, his observation makes sense to me. peace – ishwar  (speak) 22:26, 31 January 2007 (UTC)

Perhaps it would be both reasonable and rigorous to change the claim from "Some linguists..." to "At least one linguist...". The former implies that there's at least a minority of linguists that hold this position, which has yet to be demonstrated. If we assume that there are only 21,000 linguists in the world (this is simply the number of subscribers to the Linguist List -- the true number is undoubtedly many times this), and if we define "minority" as just 1%, that means there should be at least 200 or so linguists who hold this view -- enough that there have to be a couple serious publications out there criticizing the IPA. I strongly suspect that while most linguists can find something they would change in the IPA, no one here will be able to cite any serious work calling for anything near the radical change proposed by our author -- note that not even he himself does so. Steve Fishboy 03:03, 1 February 2007 (UTC)


Where would be a good place in this subsection to mention the fact that ɑ and a are not interchangeable (where a is often written similarly to ɑ in handwriting, note a if you have a serif font), and that ɡ must be one-story, not like the Looptail g.svg in most serif fonts? --Random832(tc) 00:44, 1 February 2007 (UTC)

I think Voiced velar plosive already mentions the fact that Opentail g.svg is the official IPA symbol but Looptail g.svg is an acceptable alternative (which it is). —Angr 08:33, 1 February 2007 (UTC)
The fact that a and a aren't the same letter, though, might be worth giving as an example that in general the letterforms are more specific than they are for normal alphabets. —Random832(tc) 12:21, 1 February 2007 (UTC)
Don't you mean [a] and [ɑ]? I see "a" and "a." The ikiroid (talk·desk·Advise me) 15:25, 9 February 2007 (UTC)


Can I delete that bit? It has no sources coupled with crappy arguments.Cameron Nedland 14:51, 2 February 2007 (UTC)

Look through the history first. I seem to vaguely remember that section formerly saying more, and with better references than the one currently used. If I'm wrong, and it's never said anything more than it currently does, go ahead and delete it (unless you want to research out some actual criticisms from reputable sources). —Angr 15:28, 2 February 2007 (UTC)
Can you give me a rough date when the section was better? Thanks.Cameron Nedland 14:28, 5 February 2007 (UTC)
I must have been thinking of some other article. I see the criticism section only dates back to January 10 of this year and always had no sources coupled with crappy arguments. —Angr 14:36, 5 February 2007 (UTC)
Yeah, I just waded thru the history and it starts from Revision as of (00:24, 10 January 2007 by Skal) and it doesn't ever change except for when the Citations Needed header was put up. So now can I delete it?Cameron Nedland 14:46, 5 February 2007 (UTC)
As far as I'm concerned. This doesn't mean I don't think the article should have a Criticisms section, though; it would be great to have such a section, but it has to give non-trivial criticism and be sourced. —Angr 14:53, 5 February 2007 (UTC)
One thing I don't like is the arbitrary use of some symbols. Like why weren't any Cyrillic symbols used?Cameron Nedland 14:58, 5 February 2007 (UTC)
The use of [x] for the velar fricative probably came from Cyrillic. At any rate, <x> isn't used for a velar fricative in any Latin-based alphabet I can think of that pre-dates the IPA. —Angr 15:02, 5 February 2007 (UTC)
O, I thought that was from Greek Chi, I was talking about maybe using ж for ʒ or something like that.Cameron Nedland 15:06, 5 February 2007 (UTC)

Chi's already been used for uvular fricatives, so the velar fricative sign might indeed be from Cyrillic - or they just used the 'Latin variant' of chi. Ultimately the choice of symbol has to be more or less arbitrary though. I agree that some choices seem odder than others, however. I also agree with removing the vague criticism section and its poorly written source. I further agree with Angr that we should have such a section, however. I'll try to find a more representative source. garik 15:32, 5 February 2007 (UTC)

<x> used by John Wesley Powell in 1880 (probably not in the first edition in 1877, but I cant confirm that) for a voiced fricative and for the voiceless fricative (the exact opposite of the 1887 IPA!). Powell doesnt use Greek χ nor any symbols for uvulars (same as IPA). Greek χ was used earlier for velars (e.g. by Horatio Hale (1846), Lepsius (1855, 1863).
It would be interesting if someone looked up what Pitman's and Sweet's broad romic alphabets were and see what the IPA borrowed from them. For criticisms of the IPA, you can probably look in the IPA journal around the time 1987-1989 when they were discussing it revision. For example, I remember reading that Ladefoged recommended taking <h> off the main chart as it is not really glottal or a fricative phonetically and that Catford disagreed because of tradition and /h/'s phonological patterning as a fricative in many languages. So, I suggest homework! (and I'd be interested in reading it). – ishwar  (speak) 17:30, 5 February 2007 (UTC)

Usage clarification

The main question that arose to me after having read this article was 'Is the IPA meant to be used to represent the sounds of any spoken language in a language independent way or do you need a different representation for the same word for each specific language?'. I think I know the answer (the latter) but I think it's important to make this clear in the description of the subject so people know this right away. I am, however, probably not the most suitable person to do this since I just started reading up on the matter. Prodoc 21:34, 5 February 2007 (UTC)

The answer to your question is "both, depending on what you want to represent". For example, the German word biete and the RP English word beater can both correctly be transcribed [ˈbiːtə] in IPA, but they don't actually sound identical. That transcription is perfectly adequate and correct if you're discussing German alone, or RP alone; but if you want to compare the German pronunciation and the RP pronunciation, you can do that too, by using the diacritics available in the IPA. —Angr 22:39, 5 February 2007 (UTC)


After reading the article, it was unclear to me how one should actually start translating a word to the IPA represent. Are there different methods? Are there different steps or stages in the translation process? etc. I think a general "how-to" section would be a valuable addition to the article. Prodoc 21:44, 5 February 2007 (UTC)

Wikipedia is not a how-to! More to the point, it would go way beyond the scope of this article to add such a section. If you're transcribing a language you know nothing about (e.g. if you're an anthropological linguist somewhere in the highlands of New Guinea and have just discovered a previously unknown language), then the way you go about transcribing it is entirely different from the procedure if you're transcribing a language whose phonology is well researched. —Angr 22:42, 5 February 2007 (UTC)
It is difficult, especially for a language that it very different from your own. For instance if transcribe all 'd-type sounds' as 'd' for Hindi, you will find numerous homophones (to your ears) which aren't homophonous to the native speakers.Cameron Nedland 02:46, 6 February 2007 (UTC)
Heh. I'm reminded of a Sanskrit teacher of mine who couldn't be bothered to make the distinctions and so told us, "Sanskrit has four different t-sounds: [t], [t], [t], and [t]." And no, that wasn't me not being able to hear the difference, that was him not caring. —Angr 08:03, 6 February 2007 (UTC)
Lol. Incompetent teachers make me mad. Especially if I actually want to learn the subject.Cameron Nedland 14:22, 6 February 2007 (UTC)
I wasn't aiming at a "how-to" in the most common sense of the phrase, in terms of a tutorial if you like. I meant an additional explanation about how words should be or are being translated. Just something in the lines of 'To transform a word to the IPA representation, each letter of a word, or combination of letters which make one specific sound, are matched with a symbol from the IPA alphabet one by one'. I added the questions to my initial request in case there's more than one way of doing it. Prodoc 16:27, 7 February 2007 (UTC)
Well, first of all, it's not helpful to think in terms of letters (except for letters of the IPA). I mean, we could have something like: 'To represent a word in the IPA, each individual sound in the word is matched with a symbol from the IPA', but I don't think that this tells the reader anything that isn't obvious. After all, the article already says that the alphabet works on a one-symbol-one-sound basis. garik 17:50, 7 February 2007 (UTC)modified by garik 17:54, 7 February 2007 (UTC)
How sounds are transcribed with a phonetic alphabet is something that should be covered in a general article on phonetic transcription and not in an article about the IPA. Usually, three general types of transcription (broad, narrow, impressionistic) are mentioned, but these types apply to any phonetic alphabet, of which the IPA is just one of many. Obviously, this means that the discussion of broad vs. narrow in the current article is out of place. – ishwar  (speak) 18:04, 7 February 2007 (UTC)
I think that is actually usefull. Is there an official list of IPA translations or is it just done on the fly? How does a layperson find out how a word is pronounced using IPA? Figure it out themselves? ask an linguist? is there and IPA dictionary? IS there some "source" that is the end all for how words should be translated to IPA? -Ravedave (Adopt a State) 18:12, 7 February 2007 (UTC)
I agree with ishwar that the issue of phonetic transcription—focusing on broad vs narrow transcriptions etc— is worth an article (though I think Prodoc was looking for something more basic?). In answer to Ravedave, there's no canonical list for any language, although there are such things as pronouncing dictionaries for foreign learners. Many ordinary dictionaries give broad phonemic transcriptions too. But these don't tell you 'the right way to transcribe X'—there's no such thing: just think of all the different ways people pronounce the same word. As regards laypeople: it seems to be far more common in British dictionaries than in US ones to use IPA for pronunciation guides; in this case, the dictionary almost always has a key saying things like "/k/ as in kill" etc: and this is basically how most laypeople interpret IPA transcriptions for words in their own language. It's really not all that hard to figure words out for yourself. I suppose the closest thing that exists to an ultimate source is the IPA handbook. It depends what you mean by a source. As my phonetics teacher was at pains to point out many times: there is no simple black-and-white right-or-wrong way to transcribe a word. More precisely, there are many wrong ways (/kat/ is a bad way to transcribe 'dog', for example), but also quite a lot of right ways. garik 18:41, 7 February 2007 (UTC)
Sounds great! My lack of knowledge about the subject really came forward now :-D It would address the lack of a clear distinction between the three general types of transcription (broad, narrow, impressionistic) in the same go ;-) Prodoc 16:26, 8 February 2007 (UTC)

Greek letters

Shouldn't the section about Greek letters also mention ʎ, isn't it based on λ? 惑乱 分からん 14:01, 8 February 2007 (UTC)

I think that it's based on a turned "y," not lambda, although the fact that the sound is present is Greek and that is essentially a cross between [l] and [j] may have played a part in the symbol's creation. My handbook of the IPA does not explicitly mention anything about the letter, so it would be better to forgot about it (instead of writing a crackerjack hypothesis based on what we see). The ikiroid (talk·desk·Advise me) 18:58, 11 February 2007 (UTC)


Clarify the use of syllable emphasis marks in IPA. The Suprasegmentals section doesn't say that those symbols appear before the stressed sound. American dictionaries place similar symbols after so this is a very common point of confusion. I only managed to figure it out because I suspected a difference and searched for the answer, eventually finding it here under the Notation section of the Lexical Stress topic.

I'd also strongly suggest a language-specific link in the introductory section to where a reader can find a "quick reference" such as the IPA_chart_for_English. Wikipedia becomes a more mainstream reference everyday. Not everyone who clicks on a Wikipedia IPA hyperlink has a PhD in linguistics. I wanted to learn how to pronounce an unfamiliar word, not become an expert on IPA. To help IPA become more widely accepted and appreciated, this article could become friendlier to "newbies". —The preceding unsigned comment was added by MKC (talkcontribs) 18:50, 9 February 2007 (UTC)

There's a notice at the very top of the article that says "For information on how to read IPA transcriptions of English words, see IPA chart for English." Your point about the stress mark coming before the relevant syllable is well taken. —Angr 19:16, 9 February 2007 (UTC)