The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
Transcribe English speech sounds in the international phonetic alphabet.
What is the international phonetic alphabet (IPA), and why do we need one?
The International Phonetic Alphabet is a way of transcribing speech as it’s pronounced,
which means it can be used to transcribe any language (so long as there are symbols for
the sounds spoken in that language). Because there is a one-to-one correspondence
between symbols and sounds in IPA, there are no problems with weird, ambiguous
spelling, silent letters, etc. such as we often find in written English.
In phonetics and phonology, we use IPA to represent data sets of sounds from different
languages. Using words written in IPA, we can focus on the sounds of a language without
having to learn the writing systems of different languages—many of which don’t have
any writing system at all, or have one that isn’t based on sounds (such as Chinese).
You can use your textbook or handouts or the charts provided here to learn the IPA
symbols used for English consonants and vowels. Since many languages have sounds we
don’t use in English, you may be introduced to more symbols in later problem sets; but
these symbols are all you need to start transcribing English speech.