LINGUIST List 5.806

Thu 14 Jul 1994

FYI: Proposal for an ASCII version of IPA, v.2.13 revised

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  1. David Prager Branner, Proposal for an ASCII version of IPA, v.2.13

Message 1: Proposal for an ASCII version of IPA, v.2.13

Date: Wed, 13 Jul 1994 17:09:39 Proposal for an ASCII version of IPA, v.2.13
From: David Prager Branner <>
Subject: Proposal for an ASCII version of IPA, v.2.13

This is a revised version of the Linguist Vol-5-782.

My thanks especially to Miguel Carrasquer and Richard Simmons, and to
Peter Ladefoged, Mark Rosenfelder, Robert D. Hoberman, Jakob Dempsey,
Scott Horne, Jonathan Evans, Karen Chung, Anthony Wong, Harvey Bingham,
Margaret Deuchar, and Ed Dantes.

I would very much appreciate hearing any reactions to this system,
especially from practicing fieldworkers.

David Prager Branner, Yuen Ren Society
Asian L&L, DO-21, University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195 <>



 To render the whole of the International Phonetic Alphabet in
ASCII characters, so as to aid the practical work of phonetic description
in the field when only simple keyboards (as on a palmtop computer) are
available, and to allow quick IPA citations over email.


 1) As much as possible, reproduce the actual forms of IPA
symbols. Arbitrary assignments should be avoided.
 2) When this is impossible, describe new characters using the
same kind of analysis used in IPA; i.e., do not introduce a new way of
analyzing a sound.
 3) Use only the most current version of IPA. The present system
follows the 1993 revision of Kiel, as published in the _Journal of the
IPA_ in 1993. The excellent _Phonetic Symbol Guide_ of Pullum and Ladusaw
contains many more symbols than are now standard in IPA.

 These principles are intended to keep the result *visually* as
close to current IPA as possible, within the very great limitations of the
ASCII system. If new ways of analyzing sound are introduced, conversion
to IPA will be made more difficult. So, for instance, central vowels
cannot simply be made up of non-central vowels plus the centralizing
diacritic. Retroflex consonants cannot just be plain consonants plus the
symbol for rhotacization. This system is designed to *render* IPA in
ASCII, not to replace it.

 A purely ASCII alphabet is extremely limited. Even the
typewriter, which was the mighty tool of many American linguists during
the heyday of their school, can create new symbols by overstriking, but
ASCII is limited to the following 95 symbols, which cannot be overstruck:

 a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 - = ~ !  # $ % ^ & * () _ +
 [ ] { } \ | / < > ; : ' " , . ? `

In order to reproduce IPA's much larger set of symbols and diacritics,
this system introduces a number of "operators", which alter a preceding
symbol. Operators always follow their operands. The following are the
main operators; note that some of them have purely typographic function,
while others have phonological properties:

 1) - "Barred" characters, "crossed" characters.
 2) & "Turned" or "inverted" or otherwise altered characters.
Note that the ampersand sign & is not used for the "ash digraph", though
this has become common usage among some groups using the net. Another
thing is that in some cases where the ampersand might be used, it has not
been; for instance, the unrounded u vowel, called "turned m" in IPA,
could have been written m&, but is instead written W, with m& an optional
 3) ^ Superscript. Found only among diacritics. This operator
may optionally be placed *before* the operand, in keeping with usual
practice among computer users.
 4) ) General symbol for special phonological functions, such as
r), which distinguishes the retroflex consonants from the alveolar series.
IPA characters that are written with this symbol take up fully three ASCII
characters, which is perhaps too many; to shorten the transcription, the
")" symbol itself can be left out as long as no ambiguity results. In a
number of cases, common digraphs are represented with a letter followed by
). For instance, the ash digraph is written ae), and eng is written ng).
 5) " Graphically modified in an unspecified way.
 6) ! Click. IPA does not represent this class with a common
visual feature, but the symbols are all so far from anything in ASCII
that a single operator is called for.
 7) $ Implosive. This is a completely arbitrary symbol for an
important category. The 1993 version of IPA treats implosives as
inherently voiced, but it seems likely that voiceless implosives will be
assigned their own symbols some day soon. Voiced h could perhaps be
written h$, on graphic grounds, but it has been written h" instead.
 8) ` Ejective. This symbol, the "back tick", must be
distinguished attentively from the single quotation mark '.

 IPA small capitals are represented by normal capitals here.
Capital letters are sometimes also used to suggest phonetically or
graphically similar IPA symbols, such as T for theta and E for epsilon.

 Glottal stop is ?, following common practice. But the question
mark is such a powerful symbol that it could easily be misread to mean
"uncertain" or "unknown" in the middle of transcription. There is a
Shanghainese tradition going back to the beginning of this century in
which final glottal stop is written with a letter q, and based
on this perhaps Q can substitute for glottal stop. The choice is left to
the fieldworker.

 There are a few other optional symbols. "Turned m" is written W,
but may optionally be written m&. "Turned c" is written O, but may
optionally be written c&. "Barred reversed glottal stop" is written ?",
but may also be written ?&.

 Numerals have been limited to the description of tone, to prevent

 No one should imagine that this system is convenient enough for
everyday use. Even when computers are not involved, it is already much
easier to write the sounds of a language using a streamlined, phonemicized
spelling system than to use IPA proper, and this system is not nearly as
pretty as IPA. Nor does this system tally with the numerous unofficial
transcription systems now in use over email by students of different
languages. Nevertheless, when reference must be made to absolute phonetic
values over email or on a lower-ASCII keyboard it will represent all of
current IPA unambiguously and without turning to unnecessarily arbitrary

 The following tables follow the arrangement of the chart published
in the Journal of the IPA for ease of reference.



 Bilabial Labio- Dental Alveolar Post- Retroflex
 dental alveolar

Stop p b t d tr) dr)
Nasal m M n nr)
Trill B r Rr)
Flap/Tap d" r"
Fricative F V f v T D s z S Z sr) zr)
Lateral fric l- Z"
Approximant v" r& jr)
Lateral approx l lr)

 Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal

Stop c j- k g q G ? (or Q)
Nasal nj) ng) N
Trill R
Fricative c" j" x g" X R& h- ?& h h"
Lateral fric
Approximant j W"
Lateral appr y& L


Clicks Voiced implosives Ejectives

p! Bilabial b$ Bilabial ` as in:
t! Dental d$ Dental/alveolar p` Bilabial
r! (Post)alveolar j$ Palatal t` Dental/alveolar
c! Palatoalveolar g$ Velar k` Velar
l! Alveolar lateral G$ Uvular s` Alveolar fricative


 When vowels appear in pairs, the one to the right represents a
rounded vowel.

 Front Central Back

Close i y i- u- W u
 I Y U
Close-mid e o" e& o- U" o
Open-mid E oe) E& E" v& O
 ae) a&
Open a OE) A A&


w& Voiceless labial-velar fricative
w Voiced labial-velar approximant
h& Voiced labial-palatal approximant
H Voiceless epiglottal fricative
?" Voiced epiglottal fricative
?- Epiglottal plosive

ci) zi) Alveolo-palatal fricatives
l" Alveolar lateral flap
Sx) Simultaneous S and x
xy)) Affricates and double articulations can be represented by two
 symbols joined by a tie bar)) if necessary.


' Primary stress
, Secondary stress
: Long
; Half-long
(^ Extra-short
. Syllable break
| Minor (foot) group
|| Major (intonation) group
=) Linking (absence of a break)

Tones and word accents:

/) Upstep / Global rise
\) Downstep \ Global fall

 (Tone is discussed below.)

DIACRITICS (shown here after a dummy "x")

xV) Voiceless xh" Breathy voiced x[ Dental
xv) Voiced x~ Creaky voiced x] Apical
xh^ Aspirated x{ Linguolabial x[] Laminal
xu) More rounded xw^ Labialized x~^ Nasalized
xU) Less rounded xj^ Palatalized xn^ Nasal release
x+ Advanced xg^ Velarized xl^ Lateral release
x_ Retracted x?&^ Pharyngealized x.) No audible release
x"^ Centralized x~) Velarized or pharyngealized
xx^ Mid-centralized x= Raised
x,) Syllabic x=" Lowered
x( Non-syllabic x< Advanced tongue-root
xr^ Rhoticity x> Retracted tongue-root


 Phonetic tone, of either level or contour type, should be
described using the practice common in Chinese, which is that numerals are
used to represent the Chao tone symbols. The range of the voice is
divided into five units, to which the numbers 1 through 5 are assigned,
with 1 low and 5 high. Tones are then described by the numbers
representing the beginning and end of the contour, along with any dips or
peaks in between. So the well known contours of standard Mandarin are
 55 (first tone: high level)
 35 (second tone: mid rising to high)
 213 (third tone: mid-low, dipping and rising to mid)
 52 (fourth tone: falling from high to mid-low).

Bidirectional tones are not at all rare in China, and even tridirectional
tones are occasionally encountered. So tone /6/ in modern Foochow, which
rises from mid to mid-high and then falls to mid-low, would be written
[342]. Or tone /4/ in the dialect of Wujiang Lilii, as described by Chao
in 1928, rises from mid-low to mid, then falls to mid-low again before
rising to mid-high, and is written [2324]. The pitch contours of very
short syllables or of uniformly level tones may be described with a single

 Phonemic tone category may be written with numerals, or with
letters or a combination of numerals and letters. It is of course
essential to distinguish phonemic from phonetic description in this
case. Alternately, tone categories can be marked in superscript.

 How to represent tone sandhi is a complex problem beyond the scope
of this paper. My own practice is to record it either phonetically as
heard, or phonemically in terms of mergers of tone categories or sandhi
tone categories with their own special numbers.


 For broad transcription this system is reasonably readable. For
close transcription, with many diacritics, it is frighteningly ugly. It
is suggested that in close transcription, a space be put between each
*segment* of the original IPA, so that the characters representing
diacritics do not become confused with the characters for segments proper.

 Phonemic forms can still be written between slashes in this
system, and phonetic forms between square brackets, but care must be taken
to distinguish them consistently from symbols ending in / or ]. In
Chinese this is not a problem, because every syllable ends in a tone
contour of some sort. But it may cause difficulty in non-tonal languages.
There may also be difficulty with the close-parenthesis sign).

 There are a great many symbols that have been discarded from the
IPA, or that are common in particular linguistic traditions but unknown
internationally. No effort has been made to include these symbols above.
For my own use in China, however, I have devised symbols representing the
four special vowels universally used in Chinese IPA:

 i" unrounded frictionless z
 y" rounded frictionless z
 I" unrounded frictionless zr)
 Y" rounded frictionless zr)

The rounded frictionless z is very close in spirit to the voiced
labial-palatal approximant of standard IPA, with the difference that it is
a full vowel and part of a larger class.

 Chinese linguists distinguish a whole alveolo-palatal series of
consonants, at least in theory; the symbols for them are modelled after
the IPA alveolo-palatal fricatives. In practice, however, Chinese
linguists often use these symbols to write the palatal consonants. Using
the alveolopalatal fricatives as a model, they might be written ti) etc.


 Chao, Yuen Ren, _Shiannday Wuyeu Yanjiow_ [English: _Studies in
the Modern Wu Dialects_]. Peking: Tsing Hua College Research Institute,

 Esling, John, "Computer coding of the IPA: Supplementary
Report," in Journal of the IPA (1990) 20:1, pp. 22-26.

 "International Phonetic Alphabet (revised to 1993)", in _Journal of
the IPA_ (1993) 23:1, centerfold.

 Pullum, Geoffrey K. and Ladusaw, William A., _Phonetic Symbol
Guide_. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.


INDEX OF SYMBOLS (including some variants)

a Cardinal vowel 4: open front unrounded ("lower-case a")
a& Almost fully open central unrounded vowel ("turned a")
ae) Almost fully open front unrounded vowel ("ash")
A Cardinal vowel 5: open back unrounded ("script a")
A& Cardinal vowel 13: open back rounded ("turned script a")
b Voiced bilabial stop ("lower-case b")
b$ Voiced bilabial implosive ("hooktop b")
B Bilabial trill ("small capital b")
c& Alternate to O ("turned c")
c Voiceless palatal stop ("lower-case c")
c" Voiceless palatal fricative ("c cedilla")
c! Palataoalveolar click ("double-barred pipe")
ci) Voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative ("curly-tail c")
d Voiced alveolar stop ("lower-case d")
d" Alveolar flap ("fish-hook r")
d$ Voiced dental/alveolar implosive ("hooktop d")
dr) Voiced retroflex stop ("right-tail d")
D Voiced dental fricative ("eth")
e Cardinal vowel 2: close-mid front unrounded ("lower-case e")
e& Close-mid central unrounded vowel ("reversed e")
E Cardinal vowel 3: open-mid front unrounded ("epsilon")
E& Open-mid central unrounded vowel ("reversed epsilon")
E" Open-mid central rounded vowel ("closed epsilon")
f Voiceless labiodental fricative ("lower-case f")
F Voiceless bilabial fricative ("phi")
g Voiced velar stop ("lower-case g")
g^ Velarized diacritic ("superscript gamma")
g" Voiced velar fricative ("gamma")
g$ Voiced velar implosive ("hooktop g")
G Voiced uvular stop ("small capital g")
G$ Voiced uvular implosive ("hooktop small capital g")
h Voiceless glottal fricative ("lower-case h")
h^ Aspirated diacritic ("superscript h")
h- Voiceless pharyngeal fricative ("crossed h")
h& Voiced labial-palatal approximant ("turned h")
h" Voiced glottal fricative ("hooktop h")
h") Breathy voiced diacritic ("subscript umlaut")
H Voiceless epiglottal fricative ("small capital h")
i Cardinal vowel 1: close front unrounded ("lower-case i")
i- Close central unrounded vowel ("barred i")
I Almost fully close front unrounded vowel ("small capital i")
j Palatal approximant ("lower-case j")
j^ Palatalized diacritic ("superscript ")
j- Voiced palatal stop ("barred dotless j")
j" Voiced palatal fricative ("curly-tail j")
j$ Voiced palatal implosive ("barred esh")
jr) Retroflex approximant ("turned r with right tail")
k Voiceless velar stop ("lower-case k")
k` Velar ejective
l Alveolar lateral approximant ("lower-case l")
l^ Lateral release diacritic ("superscript l")
l- Voiceless alveolar lateral fricative ("belted l")
l" Alveolar lateral flap ("turned long-legged r")
l! Alveolar lateral click ("double pipe")
lr) Retroflex lateral approximant ("l with right tail")
L Velar lateral approximant ("small capital l")
m Bilabial nasal ("lower-case m")
m& Alternate to W ("turned m")
M Labiodental nasal ("m with leftward tail at right")
n Alveolar nasal ("lower-case n")
n^ Nasal release diacritic ("superscript n")
ng) Velar nasal ("eng")
nj) Palatal nasal ("n with leftward hook at left")
nr) Retroflex nasal (n with right tail")
N Uvular nasal ("small capital n")
o Cardinal vowel 7: close-mid back rounded ("lower-case o")
o- Close-mid central rounded vowel ("barred o")
o" Cardinal vowel 10: close-mid front rounded ("slashed o")
oe) Cardinal vowel 11: open-mid front founded (o-e ligature)
O Cardinal vowel 6: open-mid back rounded ("turned c"); alternately
OE) Cardinal vowel 12: open front rounded ("small capital o-e
p Voiceless bilabial stop ("lower-case p")
p! Bilabial click ("bull's eye")
p` Bilabial ejective
q Voiceless uvular stop ("lower-case q")
Q Glottal stop (optional substitute for ?)
r Alveolar trill ("lower-case r")
r^ Rhoticity diacritic ("rhoticity mark")
r& Alveolar approximant ("turned r")
r" Retroflex flap ("r with right tail")
r! (Post)alveolar click ("exclamation point")
R Uvular trill ("small capital r")
R& Uvular fricative ("inverted small capital r")
Rr) Retroflex trill ("r with long leg")
s Voiceless alveolar fricative ("lower-case s")
s` Alveolar fricative ejective
sr) Voiceless retroflex fricative ("z with right tail")
S Voiceless postalveolar fricative ("esh")
Sx) Simultaneous S and x ("hooktop heng")
t Voiceless alveolar stop ("lower-case t")
t! Dental click ("pipe")
t` Dental/alveolar ejective
tr) Voiceless retroflex stop ("t with right tail")
T Voiceless dental fricative ("theta")
u Cardinal vowel 8: close back rounded ("lower-case u")
u- Close central rounded vowel ("barred u")
u) More rounded diacritic ("subscript right half-ring")
U Almost fully close back rounded vowel ("upsilon")
U" Cardinal vowel 15: close-mid back unrounded ("baby gamma")
U) Less rounded diacritic ("subscript left half-ring")
v Voiced labiodental fricative ("lower-case v")
v& Cardinal vowel 14: open mid back unrounded ("inverted v")
v" Labiodental approximant ("script v")
v) Voiced diacritic ("subscript wedge")
V Voiced bilabial fricative ("beta")
V) Voiceless diacritic ("under-ring")
w Voiced labial-velar approximant ("lower-case w")
w^ Labialized diacritic ("superscript w")
w& Voiceless labial-velar fricative ("inverted w")
W Cardinal vowel 16: close back unrounded ("turned m");
 alternately m&
W" Velar approximant ("turned m with long right leg")
x Voiceless velar fricative ("lower-case x")
x^ Mid-centralized diacritic ("superscript x")
X Voiceless uvular fricative ("chi")
y Cardinal vowel 9: close front rounded ("lower-case y")
y& Palatal lateral approximant ("turned y")
Y Almost fully close front rounded vowel ("small capital y")
z Voiced alveolar fricative ("lower-case z")
zi) Voiced alveolo-palatal fricative ("curly-tail z")
zr) Voiced retroflex fricative ("z with right tail")
Z Voiced postalveolar fricative ("yogh")
Z" Voiced alveolar lateral fricative ("l-yogh ligature")

? Glottal stop
?& Voiced pharyngeal fricative ("reversed glottal stop")
?&^ Pharyngealized diacritic ("superscript reversed glottal stop")
?&- Alternate of ?" ("barred reversed glottal stop")
?- Epiglottal plosive ("barred glottal stop")
?" Voiced epiglottal fricative ("barred reversed glottal stop");
 alternately ?&-
 Mid central vowel ("schwa")
~ Creaky voiced diacritic ("subscript tilde")
~^ Nasalized diacritic ("superscript tilde")
~) Velarized or pharyngealized diacritic ("superimposed tilde")
( Non-syllabic diacritic ("subscript arch")
(^ Extra-short ("breve")
)) Tie bar ("top ligature")
[ Dental diacritic ("subscript bridge")
] Apical diacritic ("subscript inverted bridge")
[] Laminal diacritic ("subscript box")
. Syllable break ("period")
.) No audible release diacritic ("corner")
, Secondary stress ("inferior vertical stroke")
,) Syllabic diacritic ("syllabicity mark")
` Ejective ("apostrophe")
' Primary stress ("superior vertical stroke")
"^ Centralized diacritic ("umlaut")
: Long ("length mark")
; Half-long ("half-length mark")
| Minor (foot) group ("pipe")
|| Major (intonation) group ("double pipe")
= Raised diacritic ("raising sign")
=" Lowered diacritic ("lowering sign")
=) Linking (absence of a break) ("bottom ligature")
+ Advanced diacritic ("subscript plus")
_ Retracted diacritic ("under-bar")
< Advanced tongue-root diacritic ("advancing sign")
> Retracted tongue-root diacritic ("retracting sign")
{ Linguolabial diacritic ("subscript seagull")
/ Global rise ("diagonal up arrow")
/) Upstep ("up arrow")
\ Global fall ("diagonal down arrow")
\) Downstep ("down arrow")

Numerals are exclusive to the representation of tone contour or level.

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