IPA as a Tool in the SCA
Taught by Katrusha Skomorokh
What is IPA?
About 1,300 years ago, our alphabet we use today was first used. There are certain rules for creating an alphabet:
1. Each symbol should represent a sound.
2. No spoken sound should be represented by more than one symbol.
1,300 years ago, that was all well and fine. Now a days, it is any wonder we are able to read at all with our scrambling of letters being able to create nearly any sound depending on the order they are placed in.
IPA was created about 100 years ago. IPA stands for International Phonetic Alphabet. What does this mean?
International: this can be applied to any language.
Phonetic: it is based on the sounds created from speech.
Alphabet: it follows the rules for an alphabet.
IPA can be used as a tool to create a generally agreed upon set of symbols to transcribe sounds unambiguously.
There are a few very important things to remember about IPA, though.
-IPA can not, alone, teach you a language. It will help you with pronunciations, but it will not teach you what words mean or proper grammar for a language.
-Using IPA you can record not just regional variations in pronunciations (the difference in how 'car' is pronounced in Boston versus New York), but you can also record accents (for example, the accent of an Irishman speaking traditional American English).
-Yes, once you transcribe something, anyone can look at that transcription and pronounce it as you wrote it without argument. BUT just because you record it doesn't mean it has been recorded correctly. There are sounds that you may not hear, or just translate into the closest similar letter. Consider some people who have English as a second language. It is difficult, for example, for those who live in Japan to differentiate between our sounds of /l/ and /r/. The best way to know if you are recording a sound correctly is to know where the speaker is from, what language they are speaking to you, and to be able to look at those charts and notice the differences between what you are used to (most likely American English) and their language.
The Handbook of the International Phonetic Association tells us there are certain assumptions of speech behind the notations of IPA that are also important to remember:
“-Some aspects of speech are linguistically relevant, whilst others (such as personal voice quality) are not.
-Speech can be represented partly as a sequence of discrete sounds or 'segments'.
-Segments can usefully be divided into two major categories, consonants and vowels.
-The phonetic description of consonants and vowels can be made with reference to how they are produced and to their auditory characteristics.
-In addition to the segments, a number of 'suprasegmental' aspects of speech, such as stress and tone, need to be represented independently of the segments.”
What can IPA do for me in the SCA?
IPA can create a sense of consistency through-out the SCA. Having everyone on the same page when it comes to pronunciations without having to return to the source (asking the person how to say their name again) or arguing over someone's phonetic interpretation of a word.
We are a society that is all over the world. People have accents. People choose various regions in which their persona is from, as well as different time periods. All of these things factor into pronunciations of names. How many times have you had someone write out a name phonetically for you and you still manage to mispronounce it according to the owner? It happens. Just as it happens that 15 people with the same set of sheet music will not all pronounce the words the same.
All of this is because we are trying to use letters that have such varied meanings as far as sounds are concerned.
Take, for example, a moment from my life. I wanted to learn to sing a song in French, but I have never taken a day of French in my life. The first line of the song is written like this in the manuscript:
Cuidoient li losengier
I asked a friend if he would be able to write out, phonetically, how that was pronounced. He gave me this:
Kwee-dwah-ehnt lee loh-sehn-zjer
So, I said that outloud to myself so I could transcribe it into IPA as I am much more comfortable with it:
kwidwaɛnt li losɛnʤiɛr
We then sat down together and he pronounced it directly for me:
kwidwaɛ̃t li lɔzɛ̃ʒiʁ
Do you notice the difference? You may not understand it, but visually you can see that different symbols were used depicting a correction in how the sounds were formed. As I knew nothing about the sound differences in French, and it wasn't something our letter symbols would be able to dictate to me without me already specifically knowing what a French accent sounded like, it was nearly impossible for me to have come up with the proper sounds from that phonetic transcription. It doesn't mean the transcription was wrong, merely that I was unable to correctly get into the speakers mind.
This is something that happens all the time as we assume everyone would use the same phonetic translations as we would for a word or sentence. I did an experiment where I asked friends from around the world to phonetically write out their pronunciation of the sentence: I have been to see my loving father. I was given everything from “eye hahv bin tu c mai luv-ing fah-thur” to “i hav ben 2 c mi lurv-in far-thar.” Just looking at the last one, I end up pronouncing it several different ways because I keep arguing with myself as to how each section is pronounced by what is written. But, when I write it in IPA: aj hæv bɪn tu si maj ləvɪŋ fɑðər , there is no question of how that is pronounced.
By the end of this class, you will be able to look back at both of these examples and confidently be able to sort them out.
The Anatomy of a Phoneme: Consonants
Bilabial – both lips
Labio-dental – lip and teeth
Lingua-dental – tongue and teeth
Lingua-alveolar – tongue and gum ridge
Lingua-post alveolar – tongue and the space behind the gum ridge, before the palate
Lingua-palatal – tongue and hard palate
Lingua-velar – tongue and soft palate
Glottal – the space between the vocal cords
Take some time to run your tongue around your mouth and identify all the areas. As you begin to learn IPA you will feel silly now and then as you slowly form words so that you can pay strict attention to what your articulators are doing. When you explore new sounds (take your tongue tip and place it on your upper lip. Pronounce the /t/ sound. Feels odd, but it is a separate sound) you will find yourself experimenting a lot. So get to know your articulators. Not all of them are listed here. I will not be touching on retroflexive (tongue curled and against the palate), uvular (tongue and uvula), or pharyngeal (tongue and pharynx). I am focusing on the typical sounds you will hear in American English.
We now can see where all the consonants take shape within our head, but how are they created?
Plosive – blocking a stream of breathe completely for a short time.
Nasal – Letting air out of the nostrils while the soft palate remains low and the oral cavity is blocked by lips or tongue.
Fricative – Squeezing air through narrow openings.
Glides or approximants – moving the articulators from one position to another
Lateral – dropping sides of tongue for the release of air
Affricatives – consonant combinations
With this knowledge, you can figure out almost everything. But there is one thing missing: the sound. Typically there is a voiced and an unvoiced version of each sound. So if you have a bilabial plosive, depending on if you are voicing or not, you will either come up with the [p] sound or the [b] sound. On IPA charts you will notice that many of the blocks of the chart have two symbols. Typically, the voiced consonant is on the right and the unvoiced is on the left.
Anatomy of a Phoneme: Vowels
Anatomy of a Phoneme: Vowels
The only distinction when it comes to vowels is really the place of articulation. Your tongue can be high, mid, low, or anywhere in between (or think of it as how open your mouth is) just as the place of production can be in the front (think lips), middle, or back (think glottal) and everywhere in between. It sounds frustrating, but when you look at a vowel chart, it is a little easier to understand.
In American English, the chart is fairly simple. Your more closed frontal sound [i] is like the /ee/ sound in bee. The [a] in the open and back is the more /ahh/ sound like in the word honest. You can feel the difference between the two fairly rapidly.
There are, also, vowel diphthongs that we use. These have their own chart so you can see the slide of where they begin and where they end.
IPA in practice
All of this is very confusing at first. The letters all look so familiar and yet so different all at the same time. So let's go through and create an example for each symbol so you can begin to see each symbol as a different sound.
In IPA, when you write a symbol of the phonetic alphabet, you keep that sound symbol in brackets. This designates that you are using IPA instead of some other phonetic alphabet.
Bilabial plosive voiced: [b] as in boat
Bilabial plosive unvoiced: [p] as in puppy
Lingua-alveolar plosive voiced: [d] as in dream
Lingua-alveolar plosive unvoiced: [t] as in took
Lingua-velar plosive voiced: [g] as in garden
Lingua-velar plosive unvoiced: [k] as in cat
Labio-dental fricative voiced: [v] as in very
Labio-dental fricative unvoiced: [f] as in furry
Lingua-dental fricative voiced: [ð] as in they
Lingua-dental fricative unvoiced [θ] as in three
Lingua-alveolar fricative voiced: [z] as in zoo
Lingua-alveolar fricative unvoiced: [s] as in snake
Lingua-palatal fricative voiced: [ʒ] as in beige
Lingua-palatal fricative unvoiced: [ʃ] as in shop
Glottal fricative unvoiced: [h] as in hot
Bilabial nasal voiced: [m] as in manuscript
Lingua-alveolar nasal voiced: [n] as in next
Lingua-velar nasal voiced: [ŋ] as in sing
Bilabial glide voiced: [w] as in wet
Bilabial glide unvoiced: [ʍ] as in where
Lingua-alveolar glide voiced: [r] as in red
Lingua-palatal glide voiced: [j] as in yes
Lingua-alveolar lateral voiced: [l] as in left
Affricative voiced: [ʤ] as in judge
Affricative unvoiced: [ʧ] as in chair
High front tense: [i] as in eat
High front lax: [ɪ] as in rich
Mid front tense: [e] as in break
Mid front tense diphthong: [eɪ] as in eight
Mid front lax: [ɛ] as in friend
Low front tense: [æ] as in laugh
High back tense: [u] as in too
High back lax: [ʊ] as in wooden
Mid back tense: [o] as in rope
Mid back tense diphthong: [oʊ] as in code
Mid back lax:: [ɔ] as in awful
Low back to high front diphthong: [ɔɪ] as in coin
Low back lax: [ɑ] as in calm
Low back lax diphthong: [ɑɪ] as in time
Low back lax diphthong: [ɑʊ] as in house
Low central stressed: [ʌ] as in double
Low central unstressed: [ə] as in bananas
Mid central stressed: [ɝ] as in herd
Mid central unstressed: [ɚ] as in father
There are other diphthongs that you find you will use such as [ɛɚ] as in bear. Once you know the vowels you will be able to feel the glide into the [ɚ] as a vowel as opposed to the [r] as a consonant and be able to tell the difference. As far as the other diphthongs are concerned, typically when the vowel is followed by a voiced consonant, we typically use the diphthong. But the meaning of the word does not change if you use the vowel instead of the diphthong or vice versa. It merely becomes a regional variant.
Let's now work on some practice phrases and poems that are fairly well known in American English to help you get more of a feel for IPA.
IPA is something that is very difficult to learn without listening to and transcribing things yourself, but to at least give you an idea, let's start with some words, phrases, and simple poetry to give you an idea.
[ɑɪ lʌv beɪkən]
[lɜt ðɛm it keɪk]
[mæri hæd ʌ lɪtl læm
ɪts flis wʌz wɑɪt æz snoʊ
ænd ɛvriwɛɚ ðæt mæri wɛnt
ðʌ læm wʌz ʃɚ tʌ ɡoʊ]
Continue to practice IPA by trying to transcribe the way people speak. Do it while sitting in court or having someone talk slowly for you, if you need. When you start feeling comfortable with American English, there is a large amount of information out there on period pronunciations in various languages. Once you understand and can read the language used for creating sounds, you can explore and experiment with a variety of other sounds used in other languages.
There is a lot of information to be found out there. Wikipedia has a plethora of good information in IPA for various different languages. The next few pages are going to show you some of the information you can find on Wikipedia:
Old Norse had nasalized versions of all nine vowel places. These occurred as allophones of the vowels before nasal consonants and in places where a nasal had followed it in an older form of the word, before it was absorbed into a neighboring sound. If the nasal was absorbed by a stressed vowel, it would also lengthen the vowel. These nasalizations also occurred in the other Germanic languages, but were not retained long.
Generic Vowel System c. 9th-12th centuries
|Front vowels||Back vowels|
|High||i • ĩ||iː • ĩː||y • ỹ||yː • ỹː||u • ũ||uː • ũː|
|Mid||e • ẽ||eː • ẽː||ø • ø̃||øː • ø̃ː||o • õ||oː • õː|
|Low/Low-Mid||ɛ • ɛ̃||ɛː • ɛ̃ː||œ • œ̃||a • ã||aː • ãː||ɔ • ɔ̃||ɔː • ɔ̃ː|
- /æ/ = /ɛ/
- /ɒ/ = /ɔ/
- /ɑ/ = /a/
Old Norse has six plosive phonemes.
|p b||t d||k ɡ|
|f (v)||θ (ð)||s||(ɣ)||h|
|Plosive||p b||t d||k ɡ|
|Fricative||f v||s z||(h)|
|Affricate||ts dz||tʃ dʒ|
- The affricates /ts/, /dz/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/ became fricatives ([s], [z], [ʃ], [ʒ]) in Middle French. /ts/ was written as c, ç, -z, as in cent, chançon, priz ("a hundred, song, price"). /dz/ was written as -z-, as in doze "twelve".
- /ʎ/ (l mouillé), as in conseil, travaillier ("advice, to work"), became /j/ in Modern French.
- /ɲ/ appeared not only in the middle of a word, but also at the end, as in poing "hand". At the end of a word, /ɲ/ was later lost, leaving a nasalized vowel.
- /h/ was found only in Germanic loanwords and was later lost. In native Latin words, /h/ was lost early on, as in om, uem, from Latin homō.
- Intervocalic /d/ from both Latin /t/
and /d/ was lenited to [ð] in the early period (cf. contemporary
[aˈmaðo]). At the end of words it was also devoiced to [θ]. In
some texts it was sometimes written as dh
(aiudha, cadhuna, Ludher, vithe).
By 1100 it disappeared altogether.
In Old French, the nasal vowels were not separate phonemes, but occurred as allophones of the oral vowels before a nasal stop. This nasal stop was fully pronounced; thus bon was pronounced [bõn] (Modern French [bɔ̃]). Nasal vowels were present even in open syllables before nasals, where Modern French has oral vowels, as in bone [bõnə] (Modern French bonne [bɔn]).
Old French vowels
- /o/ had formerly existed, but closed to /u/; it would later appear again when /aw/ monophthongized, and also when /ɔ/ closed in certain positions (e.g. when followed by original /s/ or /z/, but not by /ts/, which later became /s/).
Late Old French diphthongs and triphthongs
|/ew/ ~ /øw/||neveu||nephew|
|/we/ ~ /wø/||cuer||heart|
|/wẽ/||cuens||count (nom. sg.)|
stress always falls on middle vowel
Here is another important chart to have:
When it comes to IPA, there are many good resources to keep on hand. When learning a language, it is always good to keep around a dictionary. Both Barron's and Longman are known to be IPA dictionaries, AKA the pronunciation guide is written strictly in IPA. Make sure to open the dictionary and make sure you recognize the symbols as being unique IPA symbols for the sounds being used. You will get confused it you try to look at a different style of phonetics.
Speaking Clearly: Improving Voice and Diction by Jeffery C. Hahner, Martin A. Sokoloff, and Sandra L. Salisch
This book is written in the sense of English as a second language, focusing on teaching IPA. If you are finding IPA to be overwhelmingly confusing, this is a great book to start with as it is very simplistic and clear in its teaching techniques. It should come with a cd as well that will help you drill sounds to connect them to different symbols.
Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A Guide to the Use of the International Phonetic Alphabet by the International Phonetic Association
This book is much more academic, but it does give charts and examples of texts for about 30 different languages and helps you with placement and creation of phonemes. A great book for being able to get to know all the sounds that have symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Singing Early Music: The Pronunciation of European Languages in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance edited by Timothy J. McGee with A. G. Rigg and David N. Klausner
This book is the academic book for learning the changes of pronunciations through the years and it is done fully with the help of IPA for standardization. For those wanting to learn proper pronunciations for music or names for various regions, no matter how others pronounce it, look into this book for the rules and clauses for how to work the various sounds and how they changed through the centuries.
This is, of course, a very small selection of books that can and will be of use to you. These are merely the ones I like to use a lot. If you find other books that are particularly useful to you, I would love to hear about them. Please consider emailing me the title and author so I can look at them as well!