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Interactive IPA Chart (
243 points by Jeud 62 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 179 comments

I'm a non-native English speaker, and I've been working with an accent coach to improve my pronunciation. The IPA chart has been instrumental teaching tool, and after about two years it's finally starting to sink in.

It's really helpful to understand the theory behind the pronunciation, instead of just repeating words and attempt to make the same sounds as my coach. As in "this is what your tongue should be doing, but you're doing this other thing instead."

You can even use the chart (and maybe Wikipedia) to identify specific reasons as to why you're doing something wrong. For example, there's just one way to pronounce "S" in Finnish, whereas there are four ways to do that in English. It's just something that never crossed my mind before starting to work with a professional.

I'm a native Hebrew speaker. We basically have one way to say each vowel. It took practice for me (not with a coach but with some training videos etc) to even hear the different ways English speakers pronounce them, my brain just wasn't tuned to hear them, let alone pronounce them.

Week, weak and wick will be pronounced and will sound exactly the same to a non trained Hebrew speaker, and to much much more hilarity - sheet/shit, peace/piece/piss.

Aren't week/weak and piece/peace pronounced exactly the same?

I'd pronounce those the same (western US accent), but it can vary. Check out the caught/cot merger, for example:

They are for me. Exactly the same pronunciation and emphasis. Maybe there are some dialects of English where they are not pronounced the same.

They're really quite close, both pairs of them. But the emphasis isn't quite the same as most people speak it.

As a speaker of fairly standard British English, I would say they are homophones; I tried but couldn't find any natural way in which I could pronounce them differently. shows both with the same IPA: \wik\ and \pis\.

I think they're identical.

I’m sure, in many accents, that they are. Definitely not the same in Australian Strine.

As an American, I knew about Straya but this is the first I've heard of Strine. Or should I say Murican :)

They're identical in Australian English.

Which one?

They are identical. I think he was making a distinction between {week, weak} on one hand and {wick} on the other (but I was also initially confused by the way he put it). This is a big hurdle for native Spanish speakers as well, because i in Spanish is always pronounced as "ee". There seem to be a lot of embarrassing word pairs around these vowels; sheet, beach, etc.

Yeah what I meant is that it just increases the possibilities of awkwardness. Piss of cake, piss process, etc.

Yes, they're homophones.

French speakers often struggle with beach/bitch :)

As Spanish speaker I struggled myself with that one, sweating, and probably over correcting making the e super long beeeeach to be safe. :D

In German, the vowels between schwül and schwul were really difficult to do for me as an American English speaker. I couldn't ever hear the difference between rounded and unrounded vowels. American English vowels are only rounded in the back. u and o (and in the East the au in caught).

Italian speaker: also piece / peace / piss and sheet / shit.

We have only seven vowel sounds. A i u and open / closed e o. But different parts of the country often use only one of the two e and o sounds.

There's also the classic can't, count, and cunt (the last being one of the most offensive expletives).

For me that actually was easier - learning English mostly from TV as a kid I just pronounced can't as "kent".

As a native Californian, I pronounce week and weak the same. Not sure about other places.

Peace and piece are really quite close. Even week and weak are too. At least to my Canadian, native English ears; and I've done enough French, Russian, and Greek to hear the difference between what other Canadian English speakers would consider to be the same sound.

I had this realization during one of my later linguistics classes. It was a syntax class, so didn't really have anything to do with pronunciation; but it was an upper level class, so it was a safe assumption that everyone knew IPA.

In the beginning of the class, the professor introduced himself with "my name is X, but you can call me Y if that is too difficult". The two names were mostly the same, except that the first sound in X was a complete mumble, where I could not make out what he had said (and he repeated it several times). Later in the first class he handed out a syllubus which included his name in IPA. I immidietly knew not only how to pronounce it, but was able to do so without any difficulty.

(For those curious, his real name started with /ʒ/, while his nickname started with /dʒ/)

Can you post his name? I don't understand how it would be so hard to hear, hopefully he wouldn't mind.

Gesoel /ʒɛʒuɛl/

(Going off of memory here, I probably butchered the pronunciation anyway).

/ʒ/ does not occur in word-initial position in English, and for whatever reason it was incredibly hard for me to perceive it there.

There was probably other more subtle differences between the two that did not make it into the transcription (e.g., his native name was pronounced with his native accent instead of his English accent)

Oh aha, that's very interesting thanks! It's amazing how hard it is to parse things that you aren't primed for. I sometimes don't even recognize my native language for a while if I'm in an English-speaking country and hear it out of the blue without context.

I'm giving up my search for it, but I once read a research paper on categorical perception.

If you compare [ta] and [da], you find that the only difference is the time between when you make the consonant, and when your vocal chords start vibrating (voice onset time). In theory, VOT is a contimum, with any value being possible. However, in English it forms a tri-modal distribution /tʰ/ /t/ and /d/. The experiment artificially edited a sound to vary between /t/ and /d/, including with VOTs between the two that do not occur in English. What they found is that people put all of the sounds in 2 boxes, and were unable to distinguish between sounds in the same box, even if their VOT varied considerably.

However, when test subjects were played the same sounds, but told they were listening to rain drops, this effect disapeared, and they were able to distinguish between sounds in the same box.

Hmm, very interesting, thank you! Is it this one?

Seems to be exactly what you describe.

That is along the lines of what I was thinking, but does not make the point as cleany (they end up combining the speach-primed and non speach-primed data because participants said they percieved it as speach from the start.

They also used an ABX methodology, which forces the subject to put sounds into boxes by essentially asking if X is more like A or B, not if X is different from both.

The one I am thinking of used an odd-one-out methodology, where the subject was presented with AAX, and asked to pick which sound was different from the others (where the others were genuinly the same sound). The one I am thinking of also found a priming effect, which yours apparantly didn't.

>/ʒ/ does not occur in word-initial position in English

Doesn't gendarme start with /ʒ/? Adopted word from French, but almost all words have origins somewhere else.

> /ʒ/ does not occur in word-initial position in English

I never noticed that until now. While it's obviously not an English word, plenty of English speakers have discussed French explorer Jacques Cousteau. I can't think of any other examples.

"genre" is one of the few.

One of the languages I know allows for a word-initial /ŋ/, which English does not have at all.

New Zealand English (through Māori influence) has this, in names like Ngaire and places like Ngaio. This said, a lot (perhaps most, though it'll be regional I expect) of speakers will pronounce it as though the 'g' isn't present.

A couple of years ago I had a geology class in which the lecturer (albeit a non-New Zealander) consistently pronounced Ngāuruhoe with initial /n/. Interesting to know that New Zealanders pronounce it with /ɡ/ instead. (I, of course, pedant that I am, insisted on pronouncing it with an initial /ŋ/.)

Ah, good call.

Vietnamese, by chance? I'm guessing that because the only initial /ŋ/ word on my radar is the name Nguyen.

Jean Luc Picard is a well-known name from fiction, too.

... and it bothers me a lot how it's consistently mispronounced as John-Luc in the eponymous series.

I was once in a classroom in India attempting to teach English to Hindi speaking kids (I don't speak Hindi, but at that time I more or less knew the devanagari script). Someone told me a Hindi word and I wanted to write it on the blackboard in an example.

There are (at least) 3 different consonants in Hindi that just sound like "T" to me. So it took me 3 attempts to spell this Hindi word correctly. The kids all absolutely lost their minds with laughter at this - they were all yelling (what I heard as) "no not tuh, TUH" and just couldn't understand why I couldn't tell the difference.

The same happens with foreigners learning Mandarin Chinese. The consonants are easy, but each vowel can be pronounced with one of 4 different tones (or 5 if you count the 'neutral' tone).

If you get a tone wrong, sometimes people will understand the erroneous word due to surrounding context. But pretty often you'll just elicit a blank stare. This is especially the case for short phrases, e.g. when you're asking for directions.

>The consonants are easy

I wish. My teachers have no problem telling apart my j and q, but I rarely hear the difference despite all the cosonants in my native language coming in palatalized/non-palatalized pairs.

I forgot that English speakers often have difficulty with these pairs of consonant sounds in Mandarin:

j / zh

q / ch (the former is further forward in the mouth than 'ch' in English, and the latter further back, with a fully clenched mouth)

Wikipedia has a large number of "Help:IPA/<lang>" articles that I refer to a lot. Here's the English one, with its abundance of vowels:

This chart is awesome. I agree about understanding the theory. My best friend is Hungarian and I could not get the 'gy' sound in his name (Gyuri) right until I read up on just how it's articulated. I read up on Finnish before I visited there a few years ago and it seemed a lot easier, although I'm not sure I understand the 'o' vowel correctly.

Finnish 'o' is familiar enough, perhaps you mean 'ö' ?

May I ask which coach you are working with? My wife is interested in one of those services. Thanks!

Let me ask my coach if she's taking new clients at the moment and I'll get back to you. You can reach me at {HN Username}

I found Fluent Forever's minimal pair Anki training decks to be extremely helpful for my German listening and pronunciation. I'm native to American English, and I've been told by multiple native German speakers that my accent is a 2 in strength on a scale of 1 to 10.

> You can even use the chart (and maybe Wikipedia) to identify specific reasons as to why you're doing something wrong

There's a book called "Learner English" by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith for identifying common problems faced by English learners coming from different language backgrounds. They don't have a section on Finnish, at least in my second edition.

> there's just one way to pronounce "S" in Finnish, whereas there are four ways to do that in English

What are those four ways?

I think this is an orthography issue rather than a phonology issue.

I did a search in cmudict and found examples!

sample → /s/

treasure → /ʒ/

visible → /z/

unsure → /ʃ/

I could probably have thought of these eventually, but cmudict made it a whole lot quicker.

OK, and it can also, rarely, be silent ("island", "debris").

If you like this you may enjoy the "Pink Trombone" an interactive speech synthesizer that you control by moving around the virtual tongue and lips:

Some past discussions:

Pink Trombone - - Jan 2019 (75 comments)

Pink Trombone: Speech Synthesis Simulation in JavaScript - - April 2017 (52 comments)

A mouth simulator - - March 2017 (1 comment)

Interestingly enough, the IPA is in fact not the only phonetic transcription system. The most famous alternative is Americanist notation [0], but there’s also the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet [1] and probably others as well which I’ve forgotten.

However, the IPA has one distinguishing feature: it’s standardised, by the International Phonetic Association. By contrast, Americanist notation (the main competitor) is mostly unstandardised; for the most part, it’s not so much a ‘phonetic alphabet’ as much as a set of conventions people follow. And this doesn’t matter if the author has been careful to define their terms correctly, but it can be a real pain if they’ve forgotten. (e.g. for a while, I believed that Kalam had [r] as an allophone of [d], until I realised that the author had used ⟨ř⟩ to mean [ɾ], not [r]…) Thus, the linguistics community has mostly standardised on IPA, with the exception of some subfields which still use Americanist notation.



I can’t be the only one to click on this to be disappointed it wasn’t a website about beer!

I wasn’t really aware of the IPA, is this mostly used for teaching purposes when learning a new language?

As far as people learning English as a second language it seems like one of the biggest hurdles is learning all the ‘exceptions’. Especially for people coming from languages where all vowels only have one pronunciation.

English pronunciations are so flexible & varied that it must be frustrating. There are so many words that you just have to learn individually through repetition, since they don’t follow the ‘framework’ of the base pronunciation rules.

> I wasn’t really aware of the IPA, is this mostly used for teaching purposes when learning a new language?

It’s mostly used for linguistic purposes — most often in grammatical descriptions of obscure languages, or for precisely specifying the pronunciation of a word (e.g. in my dialect ‘mutable’, say, is [mjʉːtˢə̆bu]). But I believe it gets used in language learning as well.

It's also used for training singers. For instance, in grad school, I taught Singers' Diction in various languages. Being able to transcribe any given text into IPA, and then of course pronounce it accurately, is a core skill for classical singers. The usual languages covered are English, German, Italian, and French, those being the most important for classical music. Interestingly, the language that a lot of native English speakers have the most trouble with is...English! You'd be surprised.

> most often in grammatical descriptions of obscure languages

No, it's used everywhere in phonology, for every language.

I started a project like that (also to train myself using web components), except it listed the phonemes of a given language, selectable to the user. I should complete it one day...

> No, it's used everywhere in phonology, for every language.

Sure, of course, but I was thinking mostly of those grammars (usually Sino-Tibetan ones, for some reason) which use IPA throughout instead of a romanisation. (I suppose that by now I’m just so used to IPA being used for phonologies that I don’t even think about it.)

> I started a project like that (also to train myself using web components), except it listed the phonemes of a given language, selectable to the user. I should complete it one day...

So like PHOIBLE? (

Thanks, I’ll have to read about this more. That makes sense, gives you system to precisely describe particular pronunciations I guess. TIL :)

Really, with a [u] at the end? That's really interesting, do you mind me asking what dialect you speak?

I’ve never been quite sure about my accent, but it’s probably closest to Australian English. The relevant sound change is /l/-vocalisation: syllable-final [ɫ] → [w] with accompanying vowel changes, and syllabic [ɫ̩] → [u]. So I have e.g. pool [puːw], wall [woːw], adult [ˈʔæɾʊwtˢ], peel [piːw ~ ˈpiju], apple [ˈʔæpʰu], middle [ˈmɪɾu].

Very interesting. After asking I wondered if there could have been some kind of velar connection but L-vocalization makes sense. Appreciate the in depth explanation with lots of examples from your idiolect.

It's not about IsoPropyl Alcohol (IPA for hand sanitisation) either. tip: don't drink a 70% IPA.

For English pronunciation, there's also the Color Vowel Chart.

One of the developers of this technique of teaching English sounds is a friend of mine. There's also games, matching words to colors, that can be played with all ages.

The few times I've been able to participate in one of these sessions, I learn something...

The difference between "door", "orange", and "dog" -- in southeastern states, I hear a vowel shift from one towards the others. My Californian friends couldn't quite hear it.

Slightly tangential: it looks like some of the sounds your units make in Age of Empires II when you direct them are apparently just phonetic sounds. Specifically in the bottom two sections ("Other symbols" and "Affricates"), a number of those sounds appear to be the exact "words" your units will use on occasion. I thought they were actual words but apparently they're just letters / phonetic units (not really sure what the term for this is)!

The word would be "phones" -- distinct units of sound regardless of meaning.

The next level up would be "phonemes", which must contrast against other phonemes within a particular language. For instance, in English /b/ and /v/ are phonemes, because "bat" and "vat" are two different words with only that portion changing. (This is known as a minimal pair.) However, in Spanish, /b/ and /β/ are not separate phonemes; they are two phones in complementary distribution.

Great explanation, thank you!

Wow, this is fantastic. It's amazing to me to think that all speech everywhere is made from composing these few sounds. Amazing.

This is a great interfact and perfect for learning the IPA system (perhaps as part of a linguistics course?).

It would be nice to extend this, perhaps on a different page, to examples from specific languages. That would fill in some missing parts---long and short vowels, nasal vowels, and diphthong---and also show the vowels within a specific context. I have these for a few languages and will try to reach out to the author in case they are interested in collaborating.

I still marvel at people who can transcribe IPA in real-time.

That's almost as magical to me as people who look at a sonograph and casually read off what the speaker said.

I assume we're all working on our voiceless alveolo-palatal fricatives this week?

shah, ah shah

Is there a [Linked Data] resource with the information in this interactive IPA chart (which is from Wikipedia FWICS) in addition to?:

- phoneme, ns:"US English letter combinations", []

- phoneme, ns:" which feature said phoneme", []

AFAIU, WordNet RDF doesn't have links to any IPA RDFS/OWL vocabulary/ontology yet.

Can someone explain the usefulness of IPA currently? I guess I wonder what benefit there is to learning IPA at this point in time. I feel like its major usefulness was when there existed no way to communicate audio information easily, which is no longer the case.

If you need to communicate to someone how a given foreign word is pronounced, IPA is invaluable.

Audio doesn't do the same job, really, since it relies on a trained ear and the ability to distinguish what each individual sound is. Experts have this. The people that most need the help, don't.

What is a good way to communicate audio information. Listening to audio doesn't necessarily explain how the sound was made (well it does kind of), whereas seeing a word in IPA makes it easy to reproduce (for people familiar with IPA) and compare.

English writing is not a good phonetic system for representing speech even for the English language: IMO a 1-to-1 mapping between pronunciation and spelling should be the goal.

You might want to explain how to pronounce the word in a British or Australian accent or compare it to how a word was pronounced 200 years ago. In that case you can use a phonetic alphabet to show the difference.

The idea is to have a writing system which can be used to accurately record all possible sounds. It's helpful for learning languages with bad alphabets such as English (, for describing accents and for comparing languages and linguistics work.

PS: I don't know IPA so I'm probably wrong about everything.

IPA was never meant to be a substitute for audio - it was meant to be tools for describing the content of the audio. And if you want to talk about human sounds, it's still as relevant as before. Just like nobody would say "That red dot you can see over there" when you could instead say "Mars", even if Mars is perfectly visible right now.

In addition to all the other (excellent!) sibling replies, I’d like to add that there are some cases in which audio is impractical. e.g. I often see reference grammars of obscure languages use IPA transcription, especially when there is no standard orthography and the language uses a lot of unusual sounds. In those cases, IPA is often the only feasible option.

Being able to represent speech in writing is still pretty useful, even in 2021!

spent some time in Asian countries learning Chinese and Thai (mostly trying to impress my local GF's at the time).

It took me ~6 months to understand where a word started and ended. When I tried saying the most simple things I got blank stares. But when when they repeated it back to me it sounded exactly like what I said all along.

Try to say "Dry wood burns doesn't it?" in Thai and you get different variations of the word "Mai" which sounds like "Mai mai mai maii?" ... or "spicy duck with pepper" that is just "phet ped pet ped PET ..." etc

I eventually ended up marrying a Japanese girl (so heating with wood was never an issue neither was ordering spicy duck with pepper). And their language is all rather monotone (as you probably know from your own time there).

using this IPA would have gotten me more ridicule than ordering spicy duck from a wooden grill. And if I would have trusted HN (and this chart) I'd still be feckless today thank you very much :P (I'll take an Indian Pale Ale though without all the moaning)

Is it? I mean, like I would never want to invest the time to actually learning how to decipher it. It doesn't seem worth the effort when there are audio ways to convey the information.

The difference is that the IPA tells you how to use your anatomy to create the right sound. Someone with the right knowledge can look at a word in IPA and know how to construct it to get an accurate reproduction.

You might be able to hear an unfamiliar word and try to reproduce it, but in a lot of cases you will only get, at best, a rough approximation unless you also know how to shape your tongue, where the sounds come from and what the accent is.

English is a very forgiving language, generally speaking, but highly tonal languages (like Vietnamese and Mandarin) won’t let you get away with simple mimicry, at least not without a lot of work to nail the pronunciation.

The IPA is invaluable for studying human language, not just _a_ language. I.e.: For linguists.

For individuals wishing to learn a foreign language, the IPA probably isn't super helpful. Your mind needs to learn to pick up on new sounds if you are going to be able to converse anyway and you should definitely learn your target language's orthography to be a proficient reader/writer.

That said, I enjoy learning languages in addition to studying (comparing, contrasting, etc) and have found the IPA helpful to give me a leg up on that. Therefore, I recommend the IPA for polyglots and linguists.

Actors use it extensively to learn accents

I'm not a linguist, but I think they could have done better with the Plosive "P" sound. It's too close to the "B". In Standard American English the P is more obvious than this.

The top of the page states that /p,t,k/ are non-aspirated. These sounds are always aspirated in English when word initial (in most if not all varieties of English). That means that the only difference between /p/ and /b/ here is vocal chord vibration of the latter, which is not what you expect to hear word initial as a "Standard American English" speaker.

My IPA WTF moment was when I learned that "t͡ʃ Voiceless palato-alveolar affricate" and "t͡ɕ Voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate" are two different sounds. The first is English ch (as in church), and the second is Korean ㅊ (or so they say), but even being a native Korean speaker, I just can't tell the difference.

(They do sound somewhat different but that's because English ch is always pronounced with rounded lips.)

Also, seriously, couldn't they think of a better name than "palato-alveolar" vs "alveolo-palatal"?

Came here for beer, got nothing

I thought of beer first too, but lucky for me I enjoy both these IPAs!

Very nice chart. It really helps when understanding IPA.

I was trying to find the Swedish "u" sound. According to the Swedish Wikipedia page on the sound, it says it's written as "u" in IPA, but it doesn't sound right at all. The "ʉ" sound is a lot closer, but still not right.

What is the correct IPA representation of the Swedish u, as in "ful"?

Edit: The Wikipedia phonology article says it's /ʉ/ However, I stand by the fact that the IPA symbols do not always reflect exactly what a speaker produces, so you may be picking up on that (or the speaker in the IPA chart recording isn't quite capable of producing the requisite sound as it's probably not in his native inventory).

IIRC, Swedish /u/ is somewhat fronted, but not quite /ʉ/. It's somewhere inbetween those two. There isn't an IPA symbol for every possible sound, just the most common among languages, but there are diacritics for special cases or more precision.

See the "Advanced" diacritic:

The diacritics are also used for _phonetic_ rather than _phonemic_ renderings as the surrounding sounds in a word, etc. affect the exact outcome of an individual sound. Phonemic renderings in the IPA are typically enclosed in slashes and phonetic in square brackets.

I don’t speak Swedish, but I found a sketch grammar (Andersson’s) which says that it’s [y]. Not sure if that’s correct or not though.

Unsurprisingly there's some regional variation. Wikipedia says "Central Standard Swedish /ʉː/ is near-close near-front [ʏː]." Note that [y] and [ʏː] are not the same, but very close. Fascinating!

I’ve never heard of any of those beers

International Phonetic Ale - "We'll have your speechmaking apparatus all loosened up and ready for making unfamiliar new sounds in no time."

The 't' and 'd' (dental & postalevolar plosives) sound so close together.

These sounds are really close together to begin with, but in English, we don't actually use either of those sounds in word-initial position like the example recording, and so unless you speak a language that distinguishes these sounds in this context, they are going to be difficult to differentiate. Our word-initial voiceless stops (p, t, k) are actually aspirated stops, that is they are produced with a strong puff of air, while our word-initial voiced stops (b, d, g) are partially unvoiced and are actually somewhere between the t and d recordings.

Hold your hand in front of your mouth and feel the difference in pressure when you pronounce the first sound of the word "tune" versus the word "dune". This will let you feel that puff of "aspiration." Next, try putting your fingers over the front of your throat, (on your layrnx or where the Adam's apple is on men), and pronounce the sounds slowly. You may be able to feel the difference when your vocal cords start to vibrate as you say the "d" sound. In native English speakers this happens shortly after the pressure is released from your tongue, while in the English "t" sound, the vibration doesn't start until the vowel does. The "d" sound in the example from the chart has the vocal cord vibrations start immediately as the pressure is being released.

Yes! This is known as "voice onset time" and has a lot of variation between languages.

> Hold your hand in front of your mouth and feel the difference in pressure when you pronounce the first sound of the word "tune" versus the word "dune". This will let you feel that puff of "aspiration."

The aspiration will be even more obvious if you try speaking into a microphone.

It's not a problem to speak into a mic if you can program yourself to pronounce all 'p's as 'b's. Works great.

A lot of sounds are difficult even for a native speaker to distinguish in isolation. That's especially true for plosives, since they can't be held; you have only a moment to hear the difference.

Native speakers have the advantage in spoken conversation. They quickly understand not just the word, but the context. No native speaker would ever confuse "Give that document to Ted" with "Give that document to dead" since the latter is nonsensical. Even if you actually said "dead", most people would interpret it as "Ted" without even noticing anything odd about your pronunciation. (In fact, in a context like that between two vowels, it's entirely possible that you would keep your vocal cords buzzing and produce a "d" even if you'd meant to say "t").

There are issues, for example: ren[t/d] the furniture.

Definitely. English is hardly even the worst offender there. I'm learning French, and as a non-native speaker I am utterly lost at anything close to conversational speed. The language has many homophones and near-homophones, and liaison makes word boundaries unclear without context. Get slightly lost and it's all over.

> and liaison makes word boundaries unclear without context

There's very little blame to be placed on liaison, since word boundaries are unclear in every language, including languages that e.g. don't allow syllable-final consonants. English speakers feel like they have a strong grasp of where word boundaries occur because of the orthographic space, but the space in the writing system does not coincide with word boundaries in the language; it is heavily conventionalized.

If you are a native English speaker, these renditions will sound too close together for you, because the person pronouncing them is not a native English speaker. IPA is a coarse guide to phonemes; it does not capture, for example, the difference between the English and Spanish t, which is so great that I am still struggling to do it correctly. But they are both “t” in IPA.

There's a distinction between _broad transcription_, which only cares about capturing distinctions between phonemes which change the meaning of at least one word in the transcribed language, and _narrow transcription_, which attempts to distinguish all of the fine nuances of accent and pronunciation. Most native english speakers would expect the broadly transcribed /ta/ to be narrowly transcribed as [tʰa], because we often aspirate plosives before vowels.

Obviously this is a spectrum; some transcriptions are so broad that they transcribe the english <r> as /r/ when the context is clear that we're talking about english, even though it should properly by /ɹ/. And in my narrow transcription, I didn't bother to notate vowel length, because it didn't matter for the given example.

(Note: I use <> for orthography (how it's written in the language), // for broad transcription, and, and [] for narrow transcription)

> it does not capture, for example, the difference between the English and Spanish t

Ah yeah, that's true. This is because most Spanish speakers pronounce /t/ as denti-alveolar (the tip of the tongue touches the back of the teeth) while most English speakers pronounce /t/ as purely alveolar (the tip of the tongue stops at the back of the alveolar ridge). I'm not sure why the IPA chart doesn't differentiate these specific phones, honestly. I imagine it's because although the sounds are very different cross-linguistically, maybe there aren't any languages where these phones are contrastive and thus they don't warrant separate glyphs in the IPA. Still, I'd love to see them!

That said, I think this is actually a relatively uncommon case in the IPA, because in addition to this simple chart the IPA also specifies a number of diacritics for more complex and precise transcriptions. These diacritics are often not used in broad transcriptions within a single language because most languages don't differentiate phones at this level in a contrastive manner. But in a narrow transcription, the diacritics are used as appropriate, generally to help the transcriber make a point about what is noteworthy in that transcription.

For instance, in English let's consider the "t" as you mention. We'll look at "tap" and "pat". The broad transcriptions for these words are /tæp/ and /pæt/, respectively. But the narrow transcriptions would be more like [tʰæp̚] and [pʰæt̚] (Note that broad transcriptions are phonemic and given between slashes, while narrow transcriptions are phonetic and given between brackets). What this shows is that, in English, syllable-initial voiceless stops are aspirated (indicated by the little "h"), while word-final voiceless stops have no audible release (indicated by the angle symbol, known as "corner"). So in addition to the main letter glyphs of IPA, there are tons of diacritics that help you write your transcriptions more precisely!

> I'm not sure why the IPA chart doesn't differentiate these specific phones, honestly. I imagine it's because although the sounds are very different cross-linguistically, maybe there aren't any languages where these phones are contrastive and thus they don't warrant separate glyphs in the IPA. Still, I'd love to see them!

It's because sounds vary continuously, but the IPA is by necessity discrete. (A problem that is much worse for vowels, but still comes up for consonants.) You have to collapse variation somewhere.

The IPA notably doesn't have dedicated symbols for affricates. (Sounds that consist of a stop immediately followed by a fricative in the same location, like "z" in "pizza" or "ch" in "chill".) So English "ch" is represented /tʃ/, or if you want to be really explicit there's an affrication diacritic.

Recognizing that affricates consist physically of a colocated stop and fricative was felt to be a theoretical advance. But there's a funny story -- Peter Ladefoged went to document a language somewhere (the Americas?) and was proud to use the IPA to record its sounds. He insisted on it.

He insisted on it even after discovering that the language in question made a phonemic distinction between affricated tʃ, which he represented by /tʃ/, and /t/ followed by /ʃ/ without affrication, which he was forced to represent by /t.ʃ/. This would have been much easier to understand with a more bespoke system representing the two adjacent sounds as /tʃ/ and the affricate as /č/.

Wow, that's really interesting about the affricates! Thanks for sharing! :)

I get the continuous vs discrete aspect for sure, but you'd think we'd at least have different symbols for each place of articulation! /t/ crosses four different places (dental, denti-alveolar, alveolar, post-alveolar) and the best we can do is cut that down into two groups of two places with the dental diacritic which says "some teeth contact". I think if I were to design such a transcription system from scratch, I would try to make it at least possible to express each place/manner combination, but that's just me!

I don't think the places of articulation you list are considered all that different, really. Two speakers of different languages using sounds articulated along that continuum are likely to recognize the other language's sound as being their own, but sounding a little funny. (This phenomenon is especially notable for rhotics, where different languages may realize an "r" in very different ways -- for example, Spanish and Russian have loud alveolar trills, English has a retroflex approximant, and French has a uvular trill -- but everyone broadly agrees on which sounds are R-like, despite the fact that a Spanish R has much more in common with an English D, physically, than it does with an English R.)

Looking at the example sidethread of Mandarin pinyin "q", it is a laminal palatal aspirated affricate. Its equivalent in English is a much more complex issue than the equivalent of a Spanish "t", which everyone agrees on. The "q" may be perceived as a "ts" (witness "Tsingtao beer"), which is the English sound combination most closely matching the positioning of the tongue, though not the positioning of the restriction in airflow, or it may be perceived as "ch", which is the English single sound most closely matching the place and manner of articulation. Different English speakers may even disagree on the interpretation while listening to the same speech, and the same English speaker will disagree on (or be confused about) the interpretation when listening to the same speaker produce the sound multiple times.

There are languages that distinguish retroflex stops from alveolar stops, and IPA obliges those languages with different symbols for the two places of articulation. Do you know of a language that distinguishes alveolar stops from dental stops?

Right, again I'm with you!

> There are languages that distinguish retroflex stops from alveolar stops, and IPA obliges those languages with different symbols for the two places of articulation. Do you know of a language that distinguishes alveolar stops from dental stops?

I actually mentioned this in the top comment:

> I'm not sure why the IPA chart doesn't differentiate these specific phones, honestly. I imagine it's because although the sounds are very different cross-linguistically, maybe there aren't any languages where these phones are contrastive and thus they don't warrant separate glyphs in the IPA.

What I meant in my most recent comment was that, if I were going to create a new IPA from scratch, I would probably try to have some diacritic or distinct symbol for each place of articulation, such that any possible place/manner combination could be expressed uniquely. As it stands, the presence of distinct symbols in the IPA seems governed by whether there are examples of real-world languages in which phones are considered contrastive. This is perfectly pragmatic, but it leaves me feeling disappointed that I can't easily express something that is right there on the chart! Having <t> correspond to 3-4 places of articulation with only a diacritic to distinguish 1-2 of those is disappointing, even if it's technically sufficient for any transcription within a given language.

> I imagine it's because although the sounds are very different cross-linguistically, maybe there aren't any languages where these phones are contrastive and thus they don't warrant separate glyphs in the IPA.

I think this is a pretty spot-on observation. IPA does offer a bunch of diacritics for making more narrow transcriptions. For instance, Spanish's dental <t> is [t̪].

However, the narrower the transcription, the less applicable it is to a language in general. Things like dialectal and even individual differences start to come into play. So in general transcription will only be as narrow as necessary to achieve some point.

Interestingly enough, IPA actually does have a way of distinguishing these sounds. The Spanish t is always unaspirated [t]. But the English t can sometimes be unaspirated [t] as in "stamp" or aspirated [tʰ] as in "too"

That’s interesting, but the Spanish unaspirated t and the English one are different phonemes. The tongue is in a different position. If I forget and use the English t, my Spanish teacher stops me. The difference in sounds is quite obvious. So how, in IPA, do you spell the difference?

> but the Spanish unaspirated t and the English one are different phonemes. The tongue is in a different position.

That is not what "phoneme" means. They are different sounds, but they aren't different phonemes in either language; to be different phonemes, the same language would have to consider them different. Neither does -- in both cases, one is "/t/" and the other is "weird /t/".

Thanks for the correction. I’m not a linguist (obviously). Just teaching and learning a foreign language.

There are a bunch of subscripts/superscripts that describe the exact place of articulation but are omitted in most contexts. See:

Spanish <t> is dental, which requires the dental diacritic: [t̪]

However, since there is no alveolar [t] in Spanish, it will generally just be transcribed as /t/ rather than having to put the diacritic on all the time.

It's more complex. Spanish phonology dictates a denti-alveolar pronunciation of /t/, while typical English phonology (USA, England, etc.) uses purely alveolar /t/. So in Spanish, the tip of the tongue hits the back of the teeth, which doesn't happen in English. This distinction is not rendered in the IPA glyphs or any diacritic that I'm aware of.

I think it's not perfect, because (I believe) Spanish /t/ is usually denti-alveolar and not fully dental. I don't think there's a way to express that specific aspect of it, though I'm also not a linguist so I may be mistaken!

That’s what I’m talking about. The Spanish t is almost like an unaspirated English th.

Aspiration is a separate phenomenon. English also has unaspirated plosives — they just mostly only occur in word-final positions, like the <t> in "pat", and they are not contrastive with their aspirated versions.

What I was talking about was how the Spanish /t/ has the tip of the tongue just a bit further forward, so that it touches the back of your teeth. English /t/ is, for most people, purely alveolar, so there's no teeth contact.

Agreed. But some Spanish speakers pronounce t with the tongue quite far forward, between the teeth; that’s what I meant by comparing it to an unaspirated English th. But I think we are getting into regional variations now.

It’s even more crucial with d. An English native speaker who is a beginner in Spanish will pronounce tened in a way that will be interpreted by Spanish speakers as tener.

Maybe that's what I'm thinking of! I associate just 't' with 'tʰ'.

t͡ʃ, t͡ɕ, ʈ͡ʂ all sound so close to my poor ear that I'd struggle to articulate the difference. They sound like exactly the same thing at slightly different speeds.

The latter two are distinguished in Mandarin Chinese, the difference between ‘q’ and ‘ch’ in Pinyin.

Note that that isn't the only difference between the Mandarin sounds. Pinyin "q" is also a laminal consonant, not an apical one.

well 't' specifically... it doesn't sound like I'd say it. almost like the tongue's not being puffed forward hard enough.

Super useful! I would have loved this in undergrad when I was taking linguistics courses

It's missing my favourite: voiced alveolar fricative trill

Those of us with dirty minds favor the bilabial fricative.

Someday people will spell words phonetically. They will look back at our languages as primitive throwbacks, like hieroglyphics

Phonetic spelling is useless when you’ve got more than one dialect. For instance, consider the word ‘castle’. Is this [kæsɫ̩], or [kɑːsl̩], or [kɑːsu] (as it is for me), or something else entirely? Having an orthography which is not purely phonetic avoids this problem.

Terry Pratchett plays a lot with language, and it is funny

> “Mr Vimes," said Mrs Winkings, "ve cannot help but notice that you still haf not employed any of our members in the Vatch..."

> Say 'Watch', why don't you? Vimes thought. I know you can. Let the twenty-third letter of the alphabet enter your life.”

I am not a native English speaker, yet I decifer everyone execept gargoyles:

— e cuns uk ere um-imes an awks oo ugg

Huh, what a coincidence — I just re-read Thud! a couple of weeks ago! An excellent illustration of my point that phonetic spelling is highly dialect-dependent.

(Oh, and don’t worry; I’m a native English speaker, and I can’t understand Pratchett’s gargoyles either.)

There are phonetic languages. For example, Hindi and probably most other Indian languages are written phonetically. What you write is what you speak.

Not quite. No script, even the IPA, is perfectly phonetic. Natural languages deviate in so many ways over time that this is the only possible eventuality.

Language is unconscious and you won't understand how it works until you let go of a lot of false culturally-programmed notions, and then actually study it by engaging with the work of linguists.

For Hindi there are additional phenomena that will alter the sounds of spoken language in certain contexts.

Regional accents won't play nice with that.

Not in English, they won't.

In French, Italian, or German, though, they already do. Those languages are quite orthographically regular.

aɪ ˈwʌndə wɒt aɪ piː eɪ wʊd lʊk laɪk ɪf ɪt wɜːr ɪnˈvɛntɪd təˈdeɪ ˈprɒbəbliː nɒt laɪk ðɪs

> I wonder what IPA would look like if it were invented today? Probably not like this.

I agree! I’ve heard that IPA was optimised for movable type, a medium in which it was easy to reverse and flip letters — thus we get e.g. ʌ,ɐ,ə,ɘ,ɔ,ɟ etc. (This, incidentally, is why you can write text upside-down using Unicode.) This can be contrasted with e.g. Americanist notation, which was optimised for handwriting: š, ȼ, ƛ etc. are easier to write than the IPA equivalents ʃ, t͡s, t͡ɬ. I’m not sure what a phonetic alphabet invented today would look like though — probably it would look something like X-SAMPA [0], restricted to mostly ASCII characters and making heavy use of uppercase, punctuation and digraphs. (A_i j}:z It r\e:li:, ba_"t It lUks lA_ik DIs.)


Sounds like someone dry heaving. Is that we actually sound like when we talk?

This is so cool! I hope the author finds time to add tones, too.

This website carried me through Intro Linguistics, lol.

Came here for Indian Pale Ale

And here I was expecting to read about hoppy beers... :(

I know IPAs can be hard to resist ("the kind of thing you like, if you like that kind of thing"), but please let's apply a low-pass filter to this sort of HN comment. Otherwise the thread will fill up with content making for better drinking than reading.

Edit: er, I meant high-pass filter, I guess.

Me too. There's this one... I'm not a big fan of the New-England which seems to be all the rage.

I get that IPAs and neIPAs will dominate the taps at my local breweries, but kinda disappointed I haven't seen any Maibocks on tap this spring.

I heartily recommend taking up homebrewing. You can produce your own gallon-sized batch of Maibock!

Homebrewing - the most expensive way to enjoy free beer.

Gallon… or five

oh, that's a great chart, thanks for sharing!

I spent months brewing IPA's using the same basic recipe with tweaks in yeast, mash temperatures, and ingredients and have now moved on to do the same with a saison (just kegged the first today), but am very happy to see this chart pop up.

Same. This one of the reasons I can't stand initialisms.

damn yeah huge mislead haha


For most people: this is not the IPA you’re looking for..

What other IPAs are there?

Beer yo.... I was 'hopping' for that too.....

But what would you need an interactive chart of IPA beer for?

You've got hazies, sours, Cascadian Dark/black, West Coast, English, general American IPAs, Doubles, Triples, BelgiCo, Brutt, mixed ferm, and probably some other options. It's a fairly complicated category.

At least 4 different types of hops that can be mixed in different ratios, at different times during brewing, etc.

Also isopropyl alcohol.

The mildly alcoholic, hoppy kind

Now I know I'm a linguistics nerd...


iOS application archive file

I was curious what information an isopropyl alcohol chart would contain. This IPA makes more sense.

Quite the collection of vinegar stroke utterances.

It’s not about beer.

Came looking for beer, found sounds.

I was hoping for information on hoppy beer....

...don't hactivists like hoppy beer?

I came for the beer, but was not left speechless!

I’m more of a porter and stout fan, but I’ll give a good IPA a try.

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