IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) as a Tool in the SCA
What can IPA do for me in the SCA?
How many of you have heard a name mispronounced in court?
How many of you have had your name mispronounced in court?
How many of you have mispronounced a name in court?
Have you ever been unable to figure out someone's phonetic interpretation of a word/name before?
Have you ever phonetically written out your name only to have it still mispronounced?
Have you cringed listening to a singer who just didn't know the proper sound of the language they were singing?
Have you ever tried to teach someone how to sing a song and had a difficult time teaching them the ins and outs of the language?
Have you tried to write a scroll but not known what the recipient's name rhymed with?
Have you tried to decipher a foreign poem but couldn't understand the scansion, meter, or rhyme scheme?
Have you wanted to further your persona by perhaps giving yourself a proper accent?
IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet) 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 someone to pronounce their name again) or arguing over someone else's phonetic interpretation of a word will save a lot of time and make people feel more secure and confident in their tasks.
We are a society that is all over the world. Many of us have accents. Many of us choose various regions in which our persona is from that are not where we are from and span large ranges of time. All of these things factor into our pronunciations and our speech as a whole. A lot of this happens because we are often all using the same set of symbols (the Roman alphabet) that have varied sounds linked to them, depending on who is speaking them.
What is IPA? An Introduction to the International Phonetic Alphabet:
About 1,300 years ago, our alphabet we use today was first used. When our alphabet was created, certain rules were instated to make it easier:
1. Each symbold should represent a sound.
2. No spoken sound should be represented by more than one symbol.
1,300 years ago, this was a very clever trick to help people sound out the words that they were spelling. Now a days, it is much more difficult as we have merged our language with many other languages and have had to adjust the sounds our letters make. Unfortunately, for someone who is new and trying to learn the English language, the learning curve is much bigger than if we still followed these rules with our alphabet.
The International Phonetic Alphabet (commonly referred to as IPA) was created about 100 years ago as a tool to help people with understanding the sounds of language. What does IPA stand for? International: this alphabet can be applied to any language world round. Phonetic: it is based on the sounds that are created in speech. Alphabet: it follows similar rules to our own alphabet, using symbols that, by putting them together, can create words.
IPA was based off of the Latin alphabet due to the fact that, percentage wise, more of the world recognizes the symbols in this alphabet and, more importantly, has common ground on the sounds linked to the symbols. As such, IPA can be used as a tool to create a generally agreed upon set of symbols to transcribe sounds unambiguously. These are just some of the exciting things that IPA can, and can not, do:
IPA can not teach you another language. Although it will never teach you to conjugate verbs or proper grammar, it can help you properly form the sounds found in the language and help you to sound more fluent.
IPA can be used to record regional variations of speech and accents.
IPA, once used to transcribe something, is a standard measure to make certain everyone pronounces it the same way, no matter what the accent or language may be. It is important to remember, though, that IPA is a very aural tool, meaning that just because you recorded it does not mean that it was recorded properly. People will pronounce it the way you heard it. It is known, though, that people who are listening to a language that is not their own that may have sounds that are not in their native language will merely find the closest sound, unintentionally, to link to what they heard. It takes a lot of practice trying to form all of the different sounds you will come across, and even then you may not be able to hear the difference between sounds. This is just part of the science of IPA.
Rules from The Handbook of the International Phonetic Alphabet
The Handbook of the International Phonetic Alphabet tells us that there are certain assumptions of speech behind the notations used in IPA that are important to remember:
"-Some aspects of speech are linguistically relevant, whilst others (such as 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 this means is that languages, such as Chinese, where the musical tonality is very important to understanding what a word may possibly be or mean, there are separate symbols to indicate those tones. But, the difference between someone speaking with a raspy voice, such as someone having a cold, it is impossible (nor necessary) to transcribe such a sound quality. The symbols, such as for stress and tone, can be linked to each different segment of speech, AKA the consonants and vowels. The way we decipher the two is to understand the language and anatomy used to create the sounds.
The Anatomy and Language of a Consonant
To understand how consonants are made, we first need to be able to look at a diagram of the articulators. The language that will be seen used throughout IPA is easy enough to define when you understand the anatomy of your mouth and other sound creating instruments.
Bilabial - using both lips
Labio-dental - using one lip and teeth
The rest use the tongue and another articulator:
Dental - using the teeth
Alveolar - using the gum ridge
Post-alveolar - using the space behind the gum ridge, before the palate
Palatal - using the hard palate
Velar - using the soft palate
Glottal - using the space between to vocal chords
Plosive - blocking a sream of breath 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
Trill – sounds produced by vibrations of the articulator against the place of articulation
Tap/Flap – one articulartor is thrown against another
Fricative - squeezing air through narrow openings
Lateral fricative - squeezing air through narrow openings while the sides of tongue are dropped
Approximant - like a fricative, only the openings are more open, hence not squeezing air
Lateral approximant – the tongue makes solid contact on the roof of the mouth while the sides of the tonge are closer to the teeth
Affricative - created by joining plosives and fricatives
Voiced vs Unvoiced - whether your vocal chords are creating sound as you pass the air or not
Anatomy and Language of Vowels
Vowels in IPA are best understood by viewing the charts and considering how the chart would overlap with its various points on a cross section of the articulators. What we are really concentrating on here is tongue placement and how open your mouth is.
The language that we will traditionally see when looking at the vowel charts are:
Close - meaning that the mouth is as closed as it can be while still able to allow air flow
Close-mid -between closed and half way
Open-mid – between open and half way
Open - meaning that the mouth is at its most open
Front - the sound produced is more towards the front of the mouth
Central - the sound produced is more in the middle of the mouth
Back - the sound produced is further in the back of the mouth
One other thing to note, when viewing the charts, is that two symbols will sit beside each other at the same point on a chart, much like with the consonants chart. The symbol on the right is usually a sound that is made where the lips are more rounded. The symbol on the left, then, is a sound made where the lips are tighter and more stretched.
Consonant Practical Use
[b] as in boat - bilabial voiced plosive
[p] as in puppy - bilabial unvoiced plosive
[d] as in dream - alveolar voiced plosive
[t] as in took - alveolar unvoiced plosive
[g] as in garden - velar voiced plosive
[k] as in cat - velar unvoiced plosive
[v] as in very - labio-dental voiced fricative
[f] as in furry - labio-dental unvoiced fricative
[ð] as in they - dental voiced fricative
[θ] as in three - dental unvoiced fricative
[z] as in zoo - alveolar voiced fricative
[s] as in snake - alveolar unvoiced fricative
[ʒ] as in beige - palatal voiced fricative
[ʃ] as in shop - palatal unvoiced fricative
[h] as in hot - glottal unvoiced fricative
[m] as in manuscript - bilabial voiced nasal
[n] as in next - alveolar voiced nasal
[ŋ] as in sing- velar voiced nasal
[w] as in wet - bilabial voiced glide
[ʍ] as in where - bilabial unvoiced glide
[r] as in red - alveolar voiced glide
[j] as in yes - palatal voiced glide
[l] as in left - alveolar voiced lateral
[ʤ] as in judge - voice affricative
[ʧ] as in chair - unvoiced affricative
Vowel Practical Use
[i] as in eat - close front tense
[ɪ] as in rich - close-mid front lax
[e] as in break - close-mid front tense
[eɪ] as in eight - close-mid front tense diphthong
[ɛ] as in friend - open-mid front lax
[æ] as in laugh - open-mid front tense
[u] as in too – close back lax
[ʊ] as in wooden - close-mid back lax
[o] as in rope – close-mid back tense
[oʊ] as in code - close-mid back tense diphthong
[ɔ] as in awful - open-mid back lax
[ɔɪ] as in coin - open-mid back diphthong
[ɑ] as in calm - open back lax
[ɑɪ] as in time – open back lax diphthong
[ɑʊ] as in house - open back lax diphthong
[ʌ] as in double - open-mid central stressed
[ə] as in bananas - mid central unstressed
[ɝ] as in herd - mid central stressed
[ɚ] as in father - mid central unstressed
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!