International Phonetic Alphabet, History

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The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)"The acronym 'IPA' strictly refers [...] to the 'International Phonetic Association'. But it is now such a common practice to use the acronym also to refer to the alphabet itself (from the phrase 'International Phonetic Alphabet') that resistance seems pedantic. Context usually serves to disambiguate the two usages." (Laver 1994:561)


In 1886, a group of French and British language teachers, led by the French linguist Paul Passy, formed what would come to be known from 1897 onwards as the International Phonetic Association (in French, l’Association phonétique internationale).International Phonetic Association, Handbook, pp. 194–196 Their original alphabet was based on a spelling reform for English known as the Romic alphabet, but in order to make it usable for other languages, the values of the symbols were allowed to vary from language to language. For example, the sound (the sh in shoe) was originally represented with the letter in English, but with the digraph in French. However, in 1888, the alphabet was revised so as to be uniform across languages, thus providing the base for all future revisions.

Since its creation, the IPA has undergone a number of revisions. After major revisions and expansions in 1900 and 1932, the IPA remained unchanged until the IPA Kiel Convention in 1989. A minor revision took place in 1993 with the addition of four letters for mid-central vowels and the removal of letters for voiceless implosives.Pullum and Ladusaw, Phonetic Symbol Guide, pp. 152, 209 The alphabet was last revised in May 2005 with the addition of a letter for a labiodental flap. Apart from the addition and removal of symbols, changes to the IPA have consisted largely in renaming symbols and categories and in modifying typefaces.

Extensions to the IPA for speech pathology were created in 1990 and officially adopted by the International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association in 1994.

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External Links

  • WikipediaInternational Phonetic Alphabet Chart with SoundsLinguistics IPA LAB

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