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IPA usage, entry
How to enter phonetic transcriptions?

I notice that for questions where pronunciation is relevant (e.g. "What words are commonly mispronounced by literate people who read them before they heard them?") folks use the International Phonetic Alphabet notation to properly indicate pronunciation.

  1. Is there an easy way to type the IPA characters that are not on the keyboard or is it just a matter of using utilities like Windows Character Map to enter such characters?
  2. Is IPA notation preferred over "spelled out" notation (not sure of the proper term here, but dictionary.com uses a toggle between "show spelled" and "show IPA") on this site?
  • If some kind expert could help. A question/answer listing the IPA symbols and a description of the sound so we could both learn it and cut-paste the symbols into our answer would be great.
    – mgb
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 15:46
  • Spelling out the sounds using the standard alphabet is orthographic spelling.
    – Karl
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:13
  • @mgb: Unfortunately it doesn't work for cut-and-paste, but here's a site that links IPA symbols to sound files: wso.williams.edu/~jdowse/ipa.html
    – JPmiaou
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 3:22

3 Answers 3


1- Sam already solved this.

2- If you want to give a clear and definite indication about how a certain word is pronounced, then you should use IPA.

"Spelled out" pronunciation is easier to use, no doubt. I don't know if there's a specific policy for it on this site, but I've always preferred using IPA. That's because even though it's faster for me to write "ay-kay-ay" for AKA (just an example) rather than using IPA, the latter is much more reliable.

I'll explain better: IPA (which stands for International Phonetic Alphabet) is, precisely, international, so while "okay" is pronounced differently depending on what "language pronunciation rules" I choose (English, Italian, German, French, etc.), writing |əʊˈkeɪ| is standard, unambiguous and definitive, regardless of your background, mother tongue or other influences.

So, because of this reason, IPA is more exact and precise. In the end, (also answering to mgb), learning it is not easy, (for example, just think that, only talking about vowels, you'd need to learn 35 symbols, more or less, even if many are not used for every language, etc.), but you won't need it, since every good dictionary provides it for you.

  • 2
    My view on this is that if you give a pronunciation in IPA, it will be precise, but many will not understand; if you spell out the pronunciation, then everyone will understand, but everyone will understand it differently :-)
    – psmears
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 18:14

An online IPA keyboard


For typing, another possibility is simply to use HTML entities for IPA symbols.

Re your second question, I think it depends a bit on your audience. Neither the transcription ee nor [i] is inherently "more accurate" than the other-- depending on how they're used, they can effectively be conventions serving the same purpose. I would suggest that whether you use IPA (or another phonetic transcription system) or whether you try to "spell out" a pronunciation using the sound-to-letter conventions of the language in question should depend on which you think your reader will be more familiar with. For foreign learners, provided they have actually learnt IPA, then it has the advantage of not requiring them to be familiar with sound-to-letter conventions which may be the very thing they're trying to learn. On the other hand, a native speaker of English is likely to be more familiar with the spelling conventions of their language than the IPA.

In slight contradiction to Alenanno's answer, I want to point out that:

  • The IPA is a means for representing an analysis of pronunciation and doesn't "definitively" or "unambiguously" represent a pronunciation: the reason that when I read a transcription of English I can imagine how that word might be pronounced is more to do with conventions for transcribing English with IPA than with the notion of a particular IPA symbol representing a "precise sound". An illustration of this is that e.g. in a transcription of British English, what is represented by [u] is typically pronounced as a sound very similar to what is transcribed as [y] in French.

  • In practice, the IPA isn't quite as "international" as it might have been: it's a de facto international standard if by "international" you mean "the UK and France", but it is not as widely adopted in the US and even mainstream languages such as Spanish have only fairly recently seen conventional adaptations of the IPA.

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