Help:IPA/Introduction

You can insert letters and glyphs from IPA and other systems from a pseudo-keyboard at bottom of any edit window. Only a handful of these special letters are needed for transcribing English.

This is an introduction to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for English-speaking Wikipedians. Its purpose is to explain the IPA's basic principles to English speakers. IPA clearly and unambiguously indicates how a word or name actually sounds with one letter for each sound. Wikipedia uses IPA because it's the global standard used by professionals and the only system used in most schools in the world.

IPA's most daunting feature is that it has discrete letters for almost all of the distinctive sounds found in the world's languages. (See International Phonetic Alphabet#Letters.) Fortunately, using the IPA for English requires learning only the following small subset of them:

  • Vowels: English orthography uses 6 vowel letters (a, e, i, o, u, y) to represent some 15 vowel sounds. While the English system is compact, it is also ambiguous. The IPA is unambiguous, representing each vowel sound with a unique letter or sequence. (See the vowel audio chart). Note that most of what in English are called "long vowels", A, E, I, O, U, are in fact combinations of two sounds, which is why they are transcribed in the IPA with two letters apiece: /eɪ/, /iː/, /aɪ/, /oʊ/, and /juː/.[1]
  • Consonants: IPA consonants are mostly intuitive to an English speaker, with the same letter used for the same sound. Thus you already know /b, d, f, ɡ, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/, as long as you remember that these each have a single sound. For example, /ɡ/ always represents the sound of get, never of gem, and /s/ always the sound of so, never of rose. The letter which most confuses people is /j/, which has its Central-European values, a y sound as in English hallelujah. Two English consonant sounds, ch in chair and j in jump, are transcribed with two IPA letters apiece, /tʃ/ and /dʒ/. The English digraphs ch, ng, qu, sh, th are not used. See and hear also consonant audio chart.
  1. ^ The English digraphs ee, oo, au, ei, ai, ou, ie, eu, etc. are not used at all in the IPA, or similar combinations of two letters are used to logically represent two sounds, for example /eɪ/ for the two vowel sounds in "may", not the single vowel sound at the end of "receive ".

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