International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

vowels of the International Phonetic Alphabet
The vowels of the International Phonetic Alphabet. (International Phonetic Association/Wikimedia Commons/CC ASA 3.0U)


The International Phonetic Alphabet is the most widely used system for representing the sounds of any language.

A reproduction of the latest version of the International Phonetic Alphabet (2005) is available on the website of the International Phonetic Association.



Examples and Observations

  • "One of the most important achievements of phonetics in the past century has been to arrive at a system of phonetic symbols that anyone can learn to use and that can be used to represent the sounds of any language. This is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)."
    (Peter Roach, Phonetics. Oxford Univ. Press, 2004)
  • "Though they are primarily designed for representing speech sounds (objective physical events), the IPA symbols are naturally also widely used for representing the phonemes of particular languages. For example, the initial consonant of English think is phonetically the dental fricative [θ] for most speakers, and so the phoneme realized in this way is commonly represented as /θ/. But note carefully that a conventional phoneme symbol consisting of an IPA symbol in phoneme slashes may not in fact be pronounced in the way the IPA symbol would suggest; for example, the phoneme at the beginning of English red is customarily represented as /r/, for orthographical convenience, but probably no native speaker of English ever pronounces this word with the trill [r]. . . . An IPA symbol in square brackets is (or should be) intended to represent a real speech sound accurately; an IPA symbol in phoneme slashes is just a convenient way of representing some phoneme in some language and may not be a faithful guide to phonetic reality."
    (R.L. Trask, Language and Linguistics: The Key Concepts. Routledge, 2007)

See Also

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).