International Phonetic Alphabet, Suprasegmentals

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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)


These symbols describe the features of a language above the level of individual consonants and vowels, such as prosody, tone, length, and stress, which often operate on syllables, words, or phrases: that is, elements such as the intensity, pitch, and gemination of the sounds of a language, as well as the rhythm and intonation of speech.International Phonetic Association, Handbook, p. 13. Although most of these symbols indicate distinctions that are phonemic at the word level, symbols also exist for intonation on a level greater than that of the word.

Finer distinctions of tone may be indicated by combining the tone diacritics and letters shown here, though not many fonts support this. The primary examples are high (mid) rising ; low rising ; high falling ; low (mid) falling ; peaking (etc.); and dipping (etc.). The correspondence between the diacritics and tone letters is only approximate; for example, diacritics only indicate generic peaking or dipping tones, while the tone letters can convey fine phonetic detail, with over a hundred peaking and hundred dipping tone contours that correspond to these two diacritics, or even approximately to the six rising and falling diacritics. Various combinations are used in the IPA Handbook despite not being found on the simplified official IPA chart. However, although it is theoretically possible to combine the three diacritics in any permutation, in practice only the six combinations given here are actually used.

A work-around for diacritics sometimes seen when a language has more than one rising or falling tone, and the author does not wish to completely abandon the IPA, is to restrict generic rising and falling for the higher-pitched of the rising and falling tones, and , and to use the non-standard subscript diacritics and for the lower-pitched rising and falling tones, and . When a language has four or six level tones, the two mid tones are sometimes transcribed as high-mid (non-standard) and low-mid .

As with other IPA diacritics, such as length, aspiration, and rhoticity, the stress mark may be doubled to indicate an extra degree of stress.

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External Links

  • WikipediaInternational Phonetic Alphabet Chart with SoundsLinguistics IPA LAB

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