LINGUIST List 6.421

Fri 24 Mar 1995

Disc: IPA

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. David Prager Branner, The IPA Market

Message 1: The IPA Market

Date: Sat, 18 Mar 1995 14:57:54 The IPA Market
From: David Prager Branner <>
Subject: The IPA Market

"Alexis MR" urges that phonetic alphabets be standardized, and writes,
"Why not let the invisible hand of the "market" of ideas operate freely?"
But the market *is* operating. That's exactly why we have several
different systems, any that's why people feel free to modify those systems
as they please. I do not see how the market would demand

I asked in an earlier egram (Vol-6-199) why it would benefit me, as an
active fieldworker, to have a completely revamped phonetic alphabet. I am
still waiting for a plausible answer. I am happy with IPA most of the
time, and when I'm not I innovate as necessary. A complete overhaul would
be wrenching for me and probably leave me feeling extremely alientated.
More likely, I would just go on using the IPA and Chinese IPA symbols I
already use, and the dubious goal of a new, unified standard phonetic
system would fail.

I think the real reason some people want to overhaul IPA is to alter its
aesthetics - to make it neater, more symmetrical somehow. I do not see
any practical value in this. Nor do I see any need to have a single,
unified system, replacing both IPA and American consensual practice.
Everybody recognizes esh, and everybody recognizes s-hachek, and if a
letter _y_ appears in a transcription you look carefully at the
introduction and find out what it represents, that's all. Where is the
problem? Please, someone tell me, where is the problem?

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