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9.0: Phonetic Symbols

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    The tables below give the phonetic symbols used in this book, which for the most part are the symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Some of the symbols are alternates to IPA symbols that are commonly used to transcribe English (especially in the US) and some other languages. Where these differ from the standard IPA symbols, the IPA symbols are shown in parentheses in the tables.

    Phonetic symbols are used in two ways, as described in this paragraph, to indicate the phonemes of a particular language and to indicate the relatively precise nature of a given sound. For example, in this book the symbol /e/ is used to represent one of the vowel phonemes of English. But, as we have seen, this phoneme is pronounced as a diphthong by most speakers, [eɪ] in General American. In the table below, the symbol [e] represents a "pure" vowel sound not found in General American (but found in accents of Scotland, Ireland, and northern England, where the phoneme /e/ is not a diphthong). In addition, for the sake of simplicity, we may use the same symbol to represent phonemes in different languages that differ phonetically. So in this book, when the phonetic details don't matter, I use the symbol /r/ to represent the first sound in the English word red (phonetically, a retroflex approximant) and the first sound in the Spanish word rojo (phonetically, an alveolar trill). Symbols that are used for a relatively wide variety of sounds in phonemic transcription in this book are marked with an asterisk(*) in the tables.

    Recall also that the symbols are just a convenient way to approximate the sounds of human languages. Far more sounds than these are actually produced, so there is no way to describe all of the sounds perfectly using these symbols. I have not included all of the IPA symbols, only those for sounds that have been discussed in the book. Many of the feature values are also meant only as approximations. For example, the height of both [i] and [ɪ] is given as "high", but [ɪ] is actually slightly lower than [i], and the rounding of both [i] and [e] is given as "spread", but [i] is actually more spread than [e].


    Symbol Feature
    Height Backness Roundness Tenseness
    *i high front spread tense
    ü(y) high front round tense
    ɪ high front spread lax
    *e high mid front spread tense
    ɛ low mid front spread lax
    æ low front spread lax
    *u high back round tense
    ɯ high back spread tense
    ʊ high back round lax
    *o high mid back round tense
    ɔ low mid back round lax
    α low back spread lax
    ɨ high center spread lax
    ʌ mid center spread lax
    ə mid center spread lax
    *a low center spread lax


    Symbol Feature
    POA MOA Voice
    p bilabial stop vcls
    b bilabial stop voiced
    m bilabial nasal voiced
    ɸ bilabial fricative voiceless
    β bilabial fricative voiced
    w labiovelar approximant voiced
    f labiodental fricative vcls
    v labiodental fricative voiced
    θ dental fricative vcls
    ð dental fricative voiced
    *t alveolar stop vcls
    *d alveolar stop voiced
    n alveolar nasal voiced
    s alveolar fricative vcls
    z alveolar fricative voiced
    *r alveolar trill voiced
    ɾ alveolar tap voiced
    l alveolar lateral sonorant voiced
    ɹ retroflex approximant voiced
    č(ʧ) postalveolar affricate vcls
    ǰ(ʤ) postalveolar affricate voiced
    š(ʃ) postalveolar fricative vcls
    ž(ʒ) postalveolar fricative voiced
    ɲ palatal nasal voiced
    y(j) palatal approximant voiced
    k velar stop vcls
    ŋ velar nasal voiced
    g velar stop voiced
    x velar fricative vcls
    ɣ velar fricative voiced
    q uvular stop vcls
    ʔ glottal stop vcls
    h glottal fricative vcls

    These basic symbols are modified to indicate details, including additional features that are not simply accommodated by the feature dimensions given in the tables. The modifications used in this book are listed in the following table.

    Symbol Example Meaning
    ' t' glottalized, ejective
    h th aspirated
    ̪ dental (as opposed to alveolar)
    : e: long

    This page titled 9.0: Phonetic Symbols is shared under a GNU General Public License 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Michael Gasser via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.