Is the use of phonetic symbols to provide an accurate and permanent record of the pronunciation of speech sounds in languages of the world.

The most widely used system for phonetic transcription was developed by the International Phonetic Asso-ciation from 1886 onwards.


On IPA notation

Official IPA chart

Extended IPA chart

IPA writing



The most recent version of the IPA has 79 symbols for the phonetic transcription of consonants. The biggest set consists of 69 symbols which represent pulmonic consonants: these are powered by a pulmonic egressive airstream mechanism. In the classic IPA chart below the consonant are ordered in cells resulting from the intersection of rows and columns: the rows represent the different 'manners' of articulation, while the columns represent the different 'places' of articulation. The manners of articulation are ordered from the more constricted articulations (upper rows) to the more open articulations (lower rows). The places of articulation are arranged from left (anterior) to right (posterior).

The non-pulmonic consonants are pronounced on a laryngeal airstream mechanism (implosives & ejectives) or a lingual airstream mechanism (clicks).

Although the chart suggests that implosives can only be voiced, but voiceless implosives do occur. Curiously, the IPA does not have separate symbols for voiceless implosives. Nevertheless, they do occur contrastively with voiced implosives and voiced pulmonic plosives in languages such as Seereer-Siin in Senegal, and Lendu and Ngiti in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although in the spirit of the IPA principles, their phonetic contrastiveness would merit separate symbols, currently these sounds are represented by adding a voiceless diacritic to the corresponding symbols for voiced implosives.


The IPA distinguishes between 28 vowel symbols presented on a trapezoid vowel chart which can be regarded as a schematic representation of the vocal tract. All these vowels are oral: the velum is raised during their production so that the air escapes via the oral cavity only. The vertical dimension of the chart represents vowel height: vowels with a high tongue position (close vowels) are positioned at the top of the chart, while vowels with a low tongue position (open vowels) are placed at the bottom. In effect, this dimension is somewhat equivalent to the manner of articulation in consonants. The horizontal dimension of the vowel chart represents the location of the highest point of the tongue in the vocal tract: just as in the consonant chart, the vowel chart has a left-to-right orientation in terms of place of articulation. Vowels articulated at the front of the oral cavity are located left,

while the back vowels appear to the right. Most of the vowel symbols are plotted in pairs: the left symbol of each pair represents the unrounded vowel, while the right symbol refers to the rounded vowel.

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