Phonetic symbols

This list includes phonetic symbols for the transcription of English sounds, plus others that are used in this class for transliterating or transcribing various languages, with the articulatory description of the sounds and some extra comments where appropriate.

These symbols do not always follow the standard IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) usage — rather, they reflect the practices for the languages treated in this course, which are sometimes a bit idiosyncratic due to separate scholarly traditions. In some cases, a second line shows a different use of the same symbol, normally for another language or family of languages. Nevertheless, the list is by no means exhaustive; for example, most pinyin symbols for transcribing Mandarin are not listed here; see week 5.

You certainly don't need to memorize all these symbols, but you can use this page as a reference if you're not sure what a particular symbol means when you encounter it. Remember that you need a Unicode-compatible browser to see these symbols correctly. If you're not sure how to produce special symbols in your word processor, you can cut and paste from this page.

See the bottom of the page for diacritic marks on vowels.

Symbol Phonetic value Example
a low central (or front) unrounded vowel French la
ä central vowel ranging between [ɛ] and [ə] Ethiopic
ɑ low back unrounded vowel; often written [a] spa
ɒ low back rounded vowel British hot
æ low front unrounded vowel cat, laugh, plaid
b voiced bilabial stop bib
spirantized [b]; historically [β], modern [v] Hebrew
β voiced bilabial fricative Spanish haber
c voiceless alveolar affricate; IPA [ʦ] or [ts] Italian zucchero, German zu, Yiddish tsimmes
č voiceless palatoalveolar affricate; IPA [ʧ] or [tʃ] church, watch
ɔ lax mid back rounded vowel dog (for many speakers)
ɕ voiceless alveolopalatal fricative Mandarin xi
ç voiceless palatal fricative German ich
d voiced alveolar stop dad
palatalized [dʸ]; can be pronounced [ǰ] Egyptian
  or spirantized [d], same as [ð] Ancient Hebrew
voiced retroflex stop; IPA [ɖ] Indic
  or emphatic, i.e. pharyngealized [dˁ] Semitic
ð voiced dental fricative this, either
e tense mid front unrounded vowel bait, made
ə lax mid central vowel (unstressed in English); "schwa" about, sofa
ɚ rhotacized schwa, essentially [ər] butter, actor
ɛ lax mid front unrounded vowel bet, head
ɝ stressed [ɚ] in English; often transcribed the same way bird, learn
f voiceless labiodental fricative fife, laugh
g voiced velar stop gag
spirantized [g]; same as [ɣ] Ancient Hebrew
h voiceless glottal fricative hit
ʰ aspiration of preceding sound top vs. stop
voiceless pharyngeal fricative; IPA [ħ] Arabic hummus
voiceless uvular fricative; same as [χ] Egyptian, Semitic
voiceless fricative; probably palatal [ç] Egyptian
i tense high front unrounded vowel see, diva
ɪ lax high front unrounded vowel hit
special transcriptional symbol; also [j] Egyptian
ɨ high central unrounded vowel roses
j voiced palatal glide; same as [y] in other systems standard IPA; Mycenaean Greek
  or alternate transliteration for [ỉ] Egyptian
ʲ palatalization of preceding sound; also [ʸ] roughly canyon vs. cannon
ǰ voiced palatoalveolar affricate; IPA [ʤ] or [dʒ] judge
k voiceless velar stop kick, cake
voiceless uvular stop; same as [q] Egyptian
spirantized [k]; same as [x] Ancient Hebrew
l voiced alveolar lateral liquid lip
voiced retroflex lateral liquid; IPA [ɭ] Indic
ɬ voiceless alveolar lateral fricative Semitic; Welsh "ll"
ɫ velarized voiced alveolar lateral liquid hull
m voiced bilabial nasal mom
n voiced alveolar nasal none
ŋ voiced velar nasal; don't confuse with sequence [ŋg] singer
voiced retroflex nasal; IPA [ɳ] Indic
ɲ voiced palatal nasal Spanish ñ, Italian gn
ɴ voiced uvular nasal Japanese word-final "n"
o tense mid back rounded vowel go, hope, boat
ŏ mid central unrounded vowel, similar to [ə] Korean "eo"
ɸ voiceless bilabial fricative (like blowing out a match)
θ voiceless dental fricative thing, myth
p voiceless bilabial stop pep
spirantized [p]; historically [ɸ], modern [f] Hebrew
þ runic letter equivalent to [θ] Icelandic
  or runic letter that can be read as either [θ] or [ð] Old English, some Scandinavian
q voiceless uvular stop Arabic Qatar
r voiced alveolar trill (often used for other types of "r") Spanish perro
ɹ voiced (post)alveolar liquid, the English "r"; often just written [r] run, sorry
ɾ voiced alveolar tap; sometimes written [ᴅ] Am Engl city; Spanish pero
ʀ voiced uvular trill some French dialects, etc.
ʁ voiced uvular fricative French, German, Modern Hebrew "r"
voiced retroflex flap; IPA [ɽ] Indic
s voiceless alveolar fricative sit, hiss, rice, cent
š voiceless postalveolar fricative; IPA [ʃ] ship, push, delicious
ś voiceless alveolopalatal fricative; IPA [ɕ] Indic
  or voiceless alveolar fricative; historically distinct from [z] Egyptian (often just "s")
  or voiceless fricative; historically distinct from [s] Hebrew, other Semitic
voiceless retroflex fricative; IPA [ʂ] Indic, Mandarin ("sh")
  or emphatic, i.e. pharyngealized [sˁ] Semitic
ʃ voiceless postalveolar fricative; same as [š] ship, push, delicious
t voiceless alveolar stop stop
voiceless retroflex stop; IPA [ʈ] Indic
  or emphatic, i.e. pharyngealized [tˁ] Semitic
palatalized [tʸ]; can be pronounced [č] Egyptian
  or spirantized [t], same as [θ] Ancient Hebrew
ʨ voiceless alveolopalatal affricate Mandarin ji (cf. aspirated qi)
voiceless retroflex affricate Mandarin zhi (cf. aspirated chi)
u tense high back rounded vowel ooze, prune
ʊ lax high back rounded vowel put, book
ŭ high central unrounded vowel, similar to [ɨ] Korean "eu"
ü tense high front rounded vowel French, German, Mandarin
v voiced labiodental fricative verve
ʌ mid central unrounded vowel; stressed in English cut, love
ɣ voiced velar fricative Spanish haga
w voiced labial-velar glide witch
ʍ voiceless labial-velar fricative which for some speakers
x voiceless velar fricative chutzpah, German ach
χ voiceless uvular fricative Semitic, Egyptian
y voiced palatal glide (in many transcription systems); IPA [j] yes
  high front rounded vowel (in IPA) French u, German ü
ʸ palatalization of preceding sound; IPA [ʲ] roughly canyon vs. cannon
ʎ voiced palatal lateral Italian gli, Castilian ll
z voiced alveolar fricative fizz, his, rose
voiced retroflex fricative; IPA [ʐ] Indic, Mandarin ("r")
  or emphatic, i.e. pharyngealized [zˁ] or [ðˁ] Semitic
ž voiced palatoalveolar fricative; IPA [ʒ] rouge, vision
ʒ voiced palatoalveolar fricative; same as [ž] rouge, vision
glottalization of preceding sound (ejective) Mayan, Ethiopic
aspiration of preceding sound; same as [ʰ] Chinese (not Pinyin)
ʔ glottal stop; also written ’ or ʾ medial sound in uh-oh
ʕ voiced pharyngeal fricative; also written ‘ or ʿ Arabic ‘ayn

The following examples illustrate diacritic marks that can be added to other symbols, in particular vowels. The same accent or other mark may in some cases appear with more than the vowel symbols shown, or with a subset for cases where more than one function is encountered.

Examples Phonetic value Languages
ā ē ī ō ū ǖ high level tone (= Mandarin "tone 1") Chinese
  or long vowel Japanese, Greek, etc.
á é í ó ú ǘ rising tone (= Mandarin "tone 2") Chinese
  or primary stress Modern Greek, Spanish, etc.
  or "acute accent" Classical Greek
  or equivalent to subscript 2 for distinguishing homophones Sumerian
ǎ ě ǐ ǒ ǔ ǚ falling-rising tone (= Mandarin "tone 3") Chinese
à è ì ò ù ǜ falling tone (= Mandarin "tone 4") Chinese
  or secondary stress many transcriptions
  or "grave accent" Classical Greek
  or word-final stress Italian
  or equivalent to subscript 3 for distinguishing homophones Sumerian
â ê î ô û long vowel that results from two short vowels Akkadian, other Semitic
  or any long vowel Cree, etc.
  or "circumflex accent" Classical Greek