In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section IPA

  • Introduction
  • Association-Related Materials
  • Alphabet Materials
  • Illustrations of Individual Languages
  • Descriptions of Individual Languages and Families
  • Phonetic Notation
  • Derived Systems
  • Computational Phonetic Symbolization

Linguistics IPA
John H. Esling
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0022


The acronym IPA can refer either to the International Phonetic Association or to the International Phonetic Alphabet. The International Phonetic Alphabet is the association’s alphabet, published periodically in chart form, usually referred to as the chart of the IPA. The chart has been refined and updated over the years to accommodate the need to represent symbolically the sounds of the world’s languages. The purpose of the association and of its alphabet has been to devise and promulgate a uniform standard for phonetic writing, known commonly as phonetic transcription.

Association-Related Materials

The IPA as an association began in 1886. It grew out of L’Association Phonétique des Professeurs d’Anglais and was called Dhi Fonètik Tîcerz’ Asóciécon (the Phonetic Teachers’ Association). Transcription at the time was limited by letters that were available to typesetters and on newly appearing typewriters. Otto Jespersen’s intention (Jespersen 1889) to standardize an alphabet to represent all languages (ostensibly for transcribing speech) was tempered by the desire of language teachers to organize. In 1889 the expanding group, led by Paul Passy (b. 1859–d. 1940), took on the name L’Association Phonétique des Professeurs de Langues Vivantes (AP), and in 1897 the organization became L’Association Phonétique Internationale (API) or the International Phonetic Association (IPA). The history, statutes (1995), and bylaws (1997) of the association are in appendix 4 of International Phonetic Association 1999 (cited under Reference Resources). Information is updated on the International Phonetic Association website. The journal of the association, which first appeared in 1886 under the title Dhi Fonètik Tîtcer (the Phonetic teacher, or the FT), was renamed Le Maître Phonétique (MF) in 1889. The journal was renamed the Journal of the International Phonetic Association (JIPA) in 1971 and remains the one journal dedicated to the IPA (association and alphabet). Other phonetic journals deal with similar phonetic content and use IPA symbols, and IPA symbols enjoy wide currency beyond their use in the linguistics literature—for instance, in dictionaries and in practical orthographies devised for previously unwritten languages. Listed in this section are three works by the founders of what eventually became the International Phonetic Association: Passy 1887, Viëtor 1884, and Jespersen 1889. In their formulations can be seen the groundwork of the consonantal and vocalic articulatory classification and symbolization found later in the association’s alphabet. Ashby 2010 is a retrospective uncovering of the IPA membership procedure at the beginning of the 20th century.

  • Ashby, Michael. 2010. Joining the IPA—100 years ago. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 40:279–283.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0025100310000137

    Annotation of the subscription procedures in effect in the second decade of the 20th century with an IPA membership form of the period.

  • International Phonetic Association.

    The website maintained by the association offers information, charts, contacts, news, and member services.

  • Jespersen, Otto. 1889. The articulations of speech sounds represented by means of analphabetic symbols. Marburg, Germany: Elwert.

    The greatest need perceived at the time (along with the need for an association) was for a universally accepted notation and terminology different from the letter combinations used by each individual language.

  • Passy, Paul. 1887. Les sons du français: Leur formation, leur combinaison, leur représentation. Paris: Firmin-Didot.

    Embodies the teaching focus that was the core of the association’s being. Passy’s palatal-velar and close-to-open vowel-space representations formed a basis for the cardinal vowels and ultimately the IPA vowel chart.

  • Viëtor, Wilhelm. 1884. Elemente der Phonetik und Orthoepie des Deutschen, Englischen und Französischen mit Rücksicht auf die Bedürfnisse der Lehrpraxis. Heilbronn, Germany: Henninger.

    Also directed toward language teaching as a practical aim of phonetics and of the association, this was the most significant articulatory manual of its day. A study of sound production with accompanying symbolization, albeit quasi-orthographic.

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