Uralic Phonetic Alphabet

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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.

UPA differs from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) notation in several ways.

The basic UPA characters are based on the Finnish alphabet where possible, with extensions taken from Cyrillic and Greek orthographies. Small-capital letters and some novel diacritics are also used.

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.


A vowel to the left of a dot is illabial (unrounded); to the right is labial (rounded).

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;
  • 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 unrounded and back rounded vowels, ⟨ɛ⟩ and ⟨ɔ⟩, can be used. However, in keeping with the principles of the UPA, the open-mid front rounded and back unrounded vowels are still transcribed with the addition of diacritics, as ɔ̈ and ɛ̮.


The following table describes the consonants of the UPA. The UPA does not distinguish voiced fricatives from approximants, and does not contain many characters of the IPA such as [ɹ], [ɟ], or [ʒ].

UPA consonants
Plosive Fricative Lateral Trill Nasal Click
Bilabial p ʙ b þ ŵ φ β φ’ β’ ψ m p˿ b˿
Labiodental ʙ͔ ŧ w f v f’ v’ ᴍ͔
Dental τ ς ϑ δ ф б ф’ б’
Alveolar t d ҵ s z š ž ʟ l ʀ r ɴ n t˿ d˿
Dentipalatal (palatalised) ᴅ́ j’ k’ ś ᴢ́ ź š́ ž́ ʟ́ ĺ ʀ́ ŕ ɴ́ ń
Prepalatal (palatalised or anterior) ɢ́ ǵ χ́ j ᴎ́ ŋ́
Velar k ɢ g χ γ ŋ k˿ g˿
Postvelar ɢ͔ χ͔ γ͔ л ᴎ͔ ŋ͔
Uvular q ɢ̆ ğ ρ
Small-cap (voiceless) and lower-case (voiced) л are distinct when italic.

When there are two or more consonants in a column, the rightmost one is voiced; when there are three, the centre one is lenis or partially devoiced. Small-capital ⟨ᴫ⟩ and lower-case ⟨л⟩ are distinct in italic typeface, which is the norm for phonetic notation.

ʔ denotes a glottal stop.

ᴤ denotes a voiced laryngeal spirant.


UPA modifier characters
Example Image Description Use
ä - diaeresis above Palatal (fully front) vowel
dot below Palatal (fronted) variant of vowel
breve below Velar (fully back or backed) vowel or variant of vowel
ā macron Long form of a vowel; also by duplication
left arrowhead below Retracted form of a vowel or consonant
right arrowhead below Advanced form of a vowel or consonant
circumflex below Raised variant of a vowel
caron below Lowered variant of a vowel
ă breve Shorter or reduced vowel
inverted breve below Non-syllabic, glide or semi-vowel
ʀ small capital Unvoiced or partially voiced version of voiced sound
- superscripted character Very short sound
- subscripted character Coarticulation due to surrounding sounds
Rotated (180°) or sideways (−90° or 90°) Reduced form of sound

For diphthongs, triphthongs and prosody, the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet uses several forms of the tie or double breve:[1][2]

  • The triple inverted breve or triple breve below indicates a triphthong
  • The double inverted breve, also known as the ligature tie, marks a diphthong
  • The double inverted breve below indicates a syllable boundary between vowels
  • The undertie is used for prosody
  • The inverted undertie is used for prosody.

Differences from IPA[edit]

A major difference is that IPA notation distinguishes between phonetic and phonemic transcription by enclosing the transcription between either brackets [aɪ pʰiː eɪ] or slashes /ai pi e/. UPA instead used italics for the former and half bold font for the latter.[3]

For phonetic transcription, numerous small differences from IPA come into relevance:


Close-mid back rounded vowel [o]
Mid back rounded vowel o [o̞] or [ɔ̝]
Open-mid back rounded vowel or å̭  [ɔ]
Voiced dental fricative δ [ð]
Alveolar tap ð [ɾ]
Voiceless alveolar lateral approximant ʟ [l̥]
Velar lateral approximant л [ʟ]
Voiceless alveolar nasal ɴ [n̥]
Uvular nasal ŋ͔ [ɴ]
Voiceless alveolar trill ʀ [r̥]
Uvular trill ... Uvular plosive ρ ğ [ʀ]



The IETF language tags register fonupa as a subtag for text in this notation.[4]


This section contains some sample words from both Uralic languages and English (using Australian English) along with comparisons to the IPA transcription.

Sample UPA words
Language UPA IPA Meaning
English šᴉp [ʃɪp] 'ship'
English rän [ɹæn] 'ran'
English ʙo̭o̭d [b̥oːd] 'bored'
Moksha və̂ďän [vɤ̈dʲæn] 'I sow'
Udmurt miśkᴉ̑nᴉ̑ [miɕkɪ̈nɪ̈] 'to wash'
Forest Nenets ŋàrŋū̬"ᴲ [ŋɑˑrŋu̞ːʔə̥] 'nostril'
Hill Mari pᴞ·ń₍ᴅ́ᴢ̌́ö̭ [ˈpʏnʲd̥͡ʑ̥ø] 'pine'
Skolt Sami pŭə̆ī̮ᵈt̄ėi [pŭə̆ɨːd̆tːəi] 'ermine'

See also[edit]


  • Setälä, E. N. (1901). "Über transskription der finnisch-ugrischen sprachen". Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen (in German) (1). Helsingfors, Leipzig: 15–52.
  • Sovijärvi, Antti; Peltola, Reino (1970). "Suomalais-ugrilainen tarkekirjoitus" (PDF). Helsingin Yliopiston Fonetiikan Laitoksen Julkaisuja (in Finnish) (9). University of Helsinki. hdl:10224/4089.
  • Posti, Lauri; Itkonen, Terho (1973). "FU-transkription yksinkertaistaminen. Az FU-átírás egyszerűsítése. Zur Vereinfachung der FU-Transkription. On Simplifying of the FU-transcription". Castrenianumin Toimitteita (7). University of Helsinki. ISBN 951-45-0282-5. ISSN 0355-0141.
  • Ruppel, Klaas; Aalto, Tero; Everson, Michael (2009-01-27). "L2/09-028: Proposal to encode additional characters for the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet" (PDF). Unicode.


  1. ^ "Uralic Phonetic Alphabet characters for the UCS" (PDF). DKUUG Standardizing. 2002-03-20. Archived from the original (PDF) on Dec 27, 2023.
  2. ^ Ruppel, Klaas; Aalto, Tero; Everson, Michael (2009-01-27). "Proposal to encode additional characters for the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet" (PDF). DKUUG Standardizing. Archived from the original (PDF) on Dec 27, 2023.
  3. ^ Setälä, E. N. (1901). Über transskription der finnisch-ugrischen sprachen (in German). Helsingfors, Leipzig. p. 47.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ "Language Subtag Registry". IETF. 2024-05-16. Retrieved 22 May 2024.