History of the International Phonetic Alphabet

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The International Phonetic Alphabet was created soon after the International Phonetic Association was established in the late 19th century. It was intended as an international system of phonetic transcription for oral languages, originally for pedagogical purposes. The association was established in Paris in 1886 by French and British language teachers led by Paul Passy. The first published alphabet appears in Passy (1888). The association based their alphabet upon the Romic alphabet of Henry Sweet (1880 or 1881–1971), which in turn was based on the Phonotypic Alphabet of Isaac Pitman and Palæotype of Alexander John Ellis [1]

The alphabet has undergone a number of revisions during its history, though the 1932 version was used for over half a century with only minor adjustments until the IPA Kiel Convention of 1989, after which again only minor adjustments were made.

The extIPA for speech disorders was created in 1991 and revised in 1997.

Dhi Fonètik Tîcerz' Asóciécon

The International Phonetic Association was founded in Paris in 1886 under the name Dhi Fonètik Tîcerz' Asóciécon (The Phonetic Teachers' Association), a development of L'Association Phonétique des Professeurs d'Anglais (The English Teachers' Phonetic Association), to create an international phonetic alphabet primarily for English, French, and German. Many of the symbols derived from Sweet's Revised Romic alphabet.

Draft of 1887

Originally the symbols had different phonetic values from language to language. For example, ⟨c⟩ transcribed both English and French ch. However, over time it was decided to restrict each symbol to a single pronunciation. In 1887, the first draft of this standardized alphabet, adequate for English, French, and German, was published, as follows:

  Blab. Ldent. Dent. Alv. Palv. Pal. Velar Uvular Glot.
Plosive p b     t d     k g   '  
Nasal m     n   ɴ    
Lateral       l   ʎ      
Rhotic       r       ʀ  
Semivowel w ɥ       j      
Fricative   f v θ ð s z c ʒ ç   x q   h  
Front Central Back
Close i • y       u
Close-mid e • ɶ       o
Open-mid ɛ • œ       ɔ
Open a  

Note: this early version of the IPA was presented as a list (with examples from European languages) instead of the articulatory charts used today.

Diacritics and suprasegmentals

The earliest set of diacritics to the IPA were described as follows:

hl, lh voiceless l
u: long u
ã nasal a
û long and narrow u
-u, u- weak stressed u
·u, u·, ù strong stressed u

Declaration of purpose

By September 1888, a set of six policy statements had been formulated by the International Phonetic Association which would govern all future development of the alphabet. They were:

  1. Each sign should have its own distinctive sound.
  2. The same sign should be used for the same sound across all languages.
  3. As many ordinary Roman letters should be used as possible, and the usage of new letters should be minimal.
  4. International usage should decide the sound of each sign.
  5. The look of the new letters should suggest the sound that they represent.
  6. Diacritics should be avoided when possible, as they are difficult to write and hard to see.

Aside from these six guidelines, the association encouraged phonemic-style transcription and for contributors to transcribe their own style of speaking their own language.

Several of the new letters were created by turning ordinary Roman sorts upside-down when typesetting: ⟨ʎ ɥ ə ɔ⟩. (More would be added later.) This was a convenient way to create new symbols without having to cast special IPA type, an expensive proposition for small printers.[2]

1900 expansion

1905 chart (split for image quality). The "bronchials" were pharyngeals.[3]
File:IPA chart (1912).png
The IPA chart published in the 1912 edition of The principles of the International Phonetic Association. A couple labialized consonants and a tap have been added, the pharyngeals and ⟨ɒ⟩ have been dropped, and the chart has been reversed to its modern orientation.

During the 1890s, the alphabet was expanded to cover sounds of Arabic and other non-European languages which did not easily fit the Latin alphabet. These additions were published together in 1900, along with a few revisions, such as ⟨ɲ⟩ and ⟨ŋ⟩ for ⟨ɴ⟩, and ⟨ʃ⟩ for ⟨c⟩, which was reassigned. For the first time the glyphs were organized into a chart according to their articulation. Vowels and consonants were placed in a single chart, reflecting how sounds ranged in openness from stops (top) to open vowels (bottom).

Chart from 1908[4]
  Glottal Epiglottal Uvular Velar Palatal Lingual Labial
CONSONNES Plosives  
ˀ q ɢ k ɡ c ɟ t d p b
    ŋ ɲ n m
    ɫ ʎ l  
ᴙ ʀ     r  
Fricatives ʜ Q h ɦ ᴚ ʁ (ʍ w) x ǥ (ɥ)  ç j ʃ ʒ
s z
θ ð
f v ꜰ ʋ
 ʍ w ɥ



      u   ɯ    ü       ï    y   i

  ʊ                  ʏ   ɪ
  o      ö   ë   ø   e
      ɔ ʌ   ɔ̈ ä   œ ɛ
         ɐ      æ
          ɑ        a

  (u ü y)

(o ö ø)

(ɔ ɔ̈ œ)

As of 1908:

Tense and lax vowels were distinguished with an acute vs grave accent, so English ⟨fíːt fìtfeet, fit.

Retroflex consonants were written ⟨ṭ ḍ ṣ ṇ⟩ etc., as in Indology; this also applied to rhotic vowels, as in English ⟨ɑ̣ar. Arabic emphatic consonants were ⟨s̤ t̤⟩ etc. More or less rounded, raised, lowered, advanced, and retracted vowels were marked ⟨a˒ a˓ e˔ e˕ a ̘ a ̙⟩ etc.; the diacritic would not move under the letter for some time yet, and the latter two would later be coopted for advanced and retracted tongue root.

ɑ̃ ɛː r̬ r̥ kʼ ŭ n̩⟩ etc. had their modern values, though ejective affricates were written ⟨tʼs⟩, and voiceless ('whispered') vowels were ⟨u̦ i̦⟩ etc. As today, a superscript letter indicated a partial quality, as in ⟨ʃˢ⟩. This was extended to ⟨pᵇ tᵈ kᶢ⟩ etc. for tenuis consonants, if plain ⟨p t k⟩ would be understood to be aspirated. Palatal [s] was written ⟨sⁱ⟩, as the ⟨ʲ⟩ convention was not yet pervasive.

Tonal transcription was still provisional at this stage, and tended to vary from one language to another. Swedish "intonation" was written ⟨ˊ⟩ and ⟨ˇ⟩ before the syllable, as in the 1932 revision, and Chinese tone was marked a sloped line before the syllable, equivalent to modern tone letters without the vertical bar, though tone letters are now written after the syllable.

1932 revision

File:IPA chart (1951).png
The 1932 chart.[5] See text for additional symbols.

A second round of expansion, along with a few reassigned letter values, occurred in 1932. This was a major revision, used with little change for over half a century. Some of the changes were already adopted before the 1932 revision, for example ⟨ʋ, f⟩ were replaced by ⟨β, ɸ⟩ after the Copenhagen Phonetic Conference of 1925[6] which gathered many notable phoneticians of the time, including Daniel Jones of the IPA.[7] The symbol ⟨⟩ was also replaced by ⟨χ⟩ before the 1932 revision.[8]

  Bi-labial Labio-
Dental and
Retroflex Palato-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngal
Plosive p b   t d ʈ ɖ     c ɟ k ɡ q ɢ   ʔ
Nasal m ɱ n ɳ     ɲ ŋ ɴ    
Lateral Fricative     ɬ ɮ                
Lateral Non-Fricative     l ɭ     ʎ        
Rolled     r           ʀ    
Flapped     ɾ ɽ         ʀ    
Fricative ɸ β f v θ ð s z ɹ ʂ ʐ ʃ ʒ ɕ ʑ ç ʝ x ɣ χ ʁ ħ ʕ h ɦ
Frictionless continuants w ɥ ʋ ɹ       j (ɥ) (w) ʁ    
Front Central Back
Close (y ʉ u) i y ɨ ʉ ɯ u
(ʏ ʊ) ɪ ʏ ʊ
Half-close (ø   o) e ø ɤ o
Half-open (œ ɔ) ɛ œ ʌ ɔ
æ ɐ
Open (ɒ) ɑ ɒ

There were other sounds not found on the chart. Some of these had dedicated letters, but most were indicated with diacritics. These were, verbatim (but with added paragraph breaks for legibility),[9]

Other Sounds.—Palatalized consonants : ƫ, , etc.
Velarized or pharyngealized consonats : ɫ, , , etc.
Ejective consonants (plosives[10] with simultaneous glottal stop) : , , etc.
Implosive voiced consonants : ɓ, ɗ, etc.
ř fricative trill.
σ, ƍ (labialized θ, ð, or s, z). ƪ, ƺ (labialized ʃ, ʒ).
ʇ, ʗ, ʖ (clicks, Zulu c, q, x).
ɺ (a sound between r and l).
ʍ (voiceless w).
ɪ, ʏ, ʊ (lowered varieties of i, y, u).
ɜ (a variety of ə). ɵ (a vowel between ø and o).
Affricates are normally represented by groups of two consonants (ts, , , etc.), but, when necessalry, ligatures are used (ʦ, ʧ, ʤ, etc.), or the marks  ͡    or  ͜    (t͡s or t͜s, etc.).
c, ɟ may occasionally be used in place of , .
Aspirated plosives : ph, th, etc.
Length, Stress, Pitch: : (full length). (half length).
ˈ (stress, placed at the beginning of the stressed syllable). ˌ (secondary stress).
ˉ (high level pitch) ; ˍ (low level) ; ˊ (high rising) ; ˏ (low rising) ; ˋ (high falling); ˎ (low falling) ; ˆ (rise-fall) ; ˇ (fall-rise).
Modifiers: ˜ nasality.
˳ ( breathed l). ˬ voice ( = z). ʻ slight aspiration following p, t, etc.
 ̣ specially close vowel ( = a very close e).  ̨ specially open vowel (ę = a rather open e).
 ̫ labialization ( = labialized n).  ̪ dental articulation ( = dental t).  ̇ palatalization (ż = ).
˔ tongue slightly[11] raised ( or = ). ˕ tongue slightly[11] lowered ( or = ę).
˒ lips more rounded. ˓ lips more spread.
Central vowels : ï (= ɨ), ü (= ʉ), ë (= ə˔), ö (= ɵ), ɛ̈, ɔ̈.
ˌ (e.g. ) syllabic consonant. ˘ consonantal vowel.
ʃˢ variety of ʃ resembling s, etc.

1938 revision

In the 1938 revision, the following was added:

  ͡    or   ͜    also indicate synchronic articulation (m͡ŋ = simultaneous m and ŋ).

1947 revision

In the 1947 revision, the following were added:

palatalized ʃ, ʒ : ʆ, ʓ [added to comment on palatalization]
and ƾ, ƻ for ts, dz. [added to comment on c, ɟ]

1951 revision

The 1951 chart was identical to that of 1932. There were a few changes in the descriptions. Apart from dropping the couple words noted above,[10][11] these were,[12]


ɼ fricative trill. [replaces ř]
ɩ, ʏ, ɷ (lowered varieties of i, y, u). [Changed from ɪ, ʏ, ʊ]


ƞ Japanese syllabic nasal.
ɧ (combination of x and ʃ).
r-coloured vowels : , , ɔɹ, etc., or , , ɔʴ, etc., or , , , etc.; r-coloured ə : əɹ or əʴ or ɹ or or ɚ.

In addition, the diacritics ⟨◌̘⟩ and ⟨◌̙⟩ had been used for advanced and retracted vowels since the 1900s, but not included in IPA charts. They were now replaced by

˖ tongue advanced ( or = an advanced u, = ). ˗ or - tongue retracted ( or = ɨ˖, = alveolar t).

1976 and 1979 revisions

File:IPA as of 1979.png
The 1979 chart

In 1976 or 1979[which?] the format of the chart was revamped, and there was modest change in the IPA itself.

Formatting changes
  • Vowels were moved to separate charts, one for rounded and one for unrounded vowels, and the near-high vowels ɩ, ʏ, ɷ and rounded mid-central vowel ɵ were included
  • The non-pulmonic consonants (clicks, implosives, ejectives) were given their own rows
  • The labial-palatals and labial-velars were given their own columns, but the alveolo-palatal column was removed. Doubly articulated consonants were no longer listed twice, and k͡p, ɡ͡b were added to the chart.
  • The organization of the rows was changed, from
plosive, nasal, lateral fricative, lateral approximant, trill, tap/flap, fricative, approximant
nasal, plosive, fricative, approximant, lateral fricative, lateral approximant, trill, tap/flap, ejective, implosive, click, lateral click
  • Most of the dual fricative–approximants were listed in one row only, though j remained in both

Terminology also changed: "breathed" to voiceless, "frictionless continuant" to approximant, "rolled" to trill, "flapped" to tap or flap.

Substantive changes


  • Aspiration became a diacritic ⟨ʰ⟩ rather than ⟨h⟩ or ⟨ʻ
  • ɩ ɷ⟩ and ⟨ɪ ʊ⟩ were listed as allographs
  • Additional rhotic-vowel diacritics were illustrated: ⟨aʴ aʵ aʶ


  • The approximants ⟨ɻ⟩ and ⟨ɰ
  • The bilabial clickʘ
  • breathy voice, as ⟨b̤ ə̤


  • Japanese moraic ("syllabic") ⟨ƞ⟩ (now m, n, ŋ)
  • The affricate ligatures ⟨ƾ⟩ (ts) and ⟨ƻ⟩ (dz).
  • The rhotic-vowel transcription ⟨ᶒ, ᶏ, ᶗ, ᶕ⟩, etc.
  • The labialized fricatives, ⟨σ, ƍ, ƪ, ƺ
  •  ̣⟩ for closer and ⟨ ̨⟩ for more open vowels (redundant with ⟨˔ ˕⟩ since difference in degree removed)

Also, the dedicated rhotic-vowel diacritic was not mentioned apart from the specific case of ⟨ɚ⟩; this may have been inadvertent, as it was listed in 1989.

1989 revision

The IPA in 1989. (The arrangement of the blocks on the page may not be as published.)

A primary purpose of the Kiel Convention of 1989 was to clean up the IPA. Several sounds had long been transcribed with more than one letter, contrary to the founding principles, because agreement could not be reached on which to use. The scope of the IPA was also expanded, with new letters and diacritics, and the notation of tone was completely revamped.

Formatting changes
  • The order of the rows in the chart was changed again, to
plosive, nasal, trill, tap/flap, fricative, lateral fricative, approximant, lateral approximant, ejective stop, implosive
  • The clicks, labial-palatals, and labial-velars were removed from the chart
  • The retroflex and postalveolar columns were swapped
  • The two vowel charts were combined
  • The superscript rhotic diacritics were no longer mentioned, though they were still available, as they follow from the general principals of diacritics.
Substantive changes


  • The vowel allographs ⟨ɷ⟩ and ⟨ɩ⟩ were eliminated in favor of ⟨ʊ⟩ and ⟨ɪ
  • The special diacritics for palatalization, as in ⟨ƫ⟩, and labialization, as in ⟨⟩, were replaced with superscript letters, as in ⟨⟩ and ⟨⟩, which had been informally used following the general principle of diacritics, that superscript letters confer their characteristic quality to the main letter
  • The click symbols ⟨ʇ ʖ ʗ⟩, which the Association had been unable to persuade Khoisanists and Bantuists to adopt, were replaced with the pipe symbols ⟨ǀ ǁ ǃ⟩, which people had generally been using instead.
  • The rounding diacritics were placed under the vowel, as in ⟨ɔ̹ ɔ̜
  • Tone, which had been indicated with an iconic line preceding the syllable, was now written one of two ways: with a similar iconic line following the syllable and anchored to a vertical bar (Chao's tone letters), or with more abstract diacritics written over the vowel (acute = high, macron = mid, grave = low), which could be compounded with each other.



  • Chao's tone letters, such as ⟨˥ ˦ ˧˩˨
  • The voiced implosives ⟨ʄ ʛ
  • The voiceless implosives ⟨ƥ, ƭ, ƈ, ƙ, ʠ
  • The palato-alveolar clickǂ
  • The epiglottal consonants ⟨ʜ⟩, ⟨ʢ⟩, and ⟨ʡ⟩ (though not added to the chart)
  • The voiced palatal fricative ⟨ʝ⟩ was distinguished from ⟨j
  • The velar lateral ⟨ʟ
  • The bilabial trill ⟨ʙ

(diacritics) [Some of these may have been introduced earlier]

  • creaky voice, as in ⟨
  • apical and laminal, as in ⟨s̺ s̻
  • linguolabial, as in ⟨θ̼
  • advanced and retracted tongue root, as in ⟨e̘ e̙⟩ (using the old advanced and retracted tongue diacritics)
  • mid-centralized, as in ⟨ɯ̽
  • short vowels, as in ⟨ă⟩ (this had been the non-syllabicity diacritic, which was now moved to under the vowel, as in ⟨aɪ̯⟩)
  • formalized the distinction, always available, between velarized ⟨ˠ⟩ and pharyngealized ⟨ˤ
  • nasal, lateral, and inaudible release, as in ⟨tⁿ tˡ t̚
  • upstep and downstep, ⟨ꜛ ꜜ
  • Three basic tone diacritics, as on ⟨ə́ ə̄ ə̀⟩, which could be compounded, ⟨ə᷄ ə᷆ ə᷈⟩, or doubled for extra-high and -low tone, ⟨ə̋ ə̏


  • syllable break, ⟨.
  • major and minor prosody breaks, ⟨‖ |
  • global rise and fall of pitch, ⟨↗ ↘

Several of these had long been used, but had not been officially included in the IPA until now.


  • ʆ⟩ (= ʃʲ or ɕ) and ⟨ʓ⟩ (= ʒʲ or ʑ)
  • Czech ⟨ɼ⟩ (now written with a diacritic, as ⟨⟩)
  • ʀ⟩ was specified as a trill, rather than either a trill or flap

1993 revision and 1996 update

The 2005 chart. There are only minor changes from 1993.

The 1993 revision introduced three changes:

  • The "additional" mid central vowel, ⟨ɜ⟩, and two new mid-central vowel letters, ⟨ɘ⟩ and ⟨ʚ⟩ (= ⟨ɞ⟩),[13] were added to ⟨ə⟩ and ⟨ɵ⟩ in the vowel chart, producing their current distribution.
  • The voiceless implosives ⟨ƥ, ƭ, ƈ, ƙ, ʠ⟩ were dropped
  • The glottal consonants (ejectives and implosives) were removed from the main chart, and set up with the clicks in a non-pulmonic box
  • ə⟩ and ⟨ɐ⟩ are moved to the centerline of the vowel chart, indicating that they (like ⟨ʊ⟩) are not necessarily unrounded
  • The dedicated rhotic diacritic, listed only as ⟨ɚ⟩ since 1976, was made explicit
  • It was noted that subdiacritics may be moved above a letter to avoid interference from a descender
  • The word "etc." is dropped from the list of tones, leading to confusion that the listed tone diacritics are the only ones available

In 1996 the misformed letter ⟨ʚ⟩ (closed epsilon) was corrected to ⟨ɞ⟩ (closed reversed epsilon). A few illustrations in the chart were changed: ⟨⟩ was added for rhoticity, and ⟨i̠ ɹ̩⟩ were replaced with ⟨e̠ n̩⟩.

2005 revision and 2015 chart

In 2005, a single change was made: the right hook v symbol ⟨⟩ was added for the labiodental flap.[14]

A revised version was published in 2015. No symbols were added or withdrawn, but the appearance/glyphs of a few symbols has very slightly changed.[15]

See also


  1. (Kelly 1981).
  2. Later a couple letters would be created by filing off part of an existing sort, such as ⟨ˀ⟩ from ⟨?⟩ and ⟨ɾ⟩ from ⟨r⟩.
  3. Heselwood (2013) Phonetic Transcription in Theory and Practice, p. 113
  4. International Phonetic Association. (1908). Exposé des principes de l’Association phonétique internationale, p. 12. [1]
  5. Though dated 1951, there are no changes in the chart itself from 1932 (Daniels & Bright 1996:830).
  6. Kemp 2004
  7. Phonetic Transcription and Transliteration, 1925
  8. Le Maître phonétique, 14, April–June 1926
  9. Daniels & Bright 1996:830
  10. 10.0 10.1 The word 'plosive' was dropped by 1951
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 The word 'slightly' was dropped by 1951
  12. Brosnahan & Malmberg, 1976, Introduction to Phonetics, p 219
  13. This was mistranscribed as a closed epsilon, ⟨ʚ⟩, until corrected in 1996.
  14. International Phonetic Association 2005:261
  15. Full IPA Chart


  • Association phonétique internationale. (1938). La Maître phonétique, 62, avril-juin 1938.
  • Association phonétique internationale. (1947). La Maître phonétique, 88, juillet-décembre 1947.
  • Association phonétique internationale. (1952). La Maître phonétique, 93, janvier-février 1952.
  • International Phonetic Association. (1949).The principles of the International Phonetic Association, being a description of the International Phonetic Alphabet and the manner of using it, illustrated by texts in 51 languages. London: University College, Department of Phonetics.
  • International Phonetic Association. (1989). Report on the 1989 Kiel convention. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 19 (2), 67-80.
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • International Phonetic Association. (2005). IPA news. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 35 (2), 261–262.
  • Albright, Robert W. (1958). The International Phonetic Alphabet: Its background and development. International journal of American linguistics (Vol. 24, No. 1, Part 3); Indiana University research center in anthropology, folklore, and linguistics, publ. 7. Baltimore. (Doctoral dissertation, Stanford University, 1953).
  • Ellis, Alexander J. (1869–1889). On early English pronunciation (Parts 1 & 5). London: Philological Society by Asher & Co.; London: Trübner & Co.
  • Hultzen, Lee S. (1958). [Review of The International Phonetic Alphabet: Its backgrounds and development by R. W. Albright]. Language, 34 (3), 438-442.
  • Kelly, John. (1981). The 1847 alphabet: An episode of phonotypy. In R. E. Asher & E. J. A. Henderson (Eds.), Towards a history of phonetics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Kemp, J. Alan. (1994). Phonetic transcription: History. In R. E. Asher & J. M. Y. Simpson (Eds.), The encyclopedia of language and linguistics (Vol. 6, pp. 3040–3051). Oxford: Pergamon.
  • Passy, Paul. (1888). Our revised alphabet. The Phonetic Teacher, 57-60.
  • Pullum, Geoffrey K., and William A. Ladusaw (1996). Phonetic Symbol Guide, 2nd edition. Chicago: Chicago University Press. ISBN 0-226-68536-5.
  • Sweet, Henry. (1880–1881). Sound notation. Transactions of the Philological Society, 177-235.
  • Sweet, Henry. (1971). The indispensable foundation: A selection from the writings of Henry Sweet. Henderson, Eugénie J. A. (Ed.). Language and language learning 28. London: Oxford University Press.