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International Phonetic Alphabet facts for kids

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The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a system for writing down sounds. It was created by the International Phonetic Association in 1886, so that people could write down sounds of languages in a standard way. Linguists, language teachers, and translators use this system to show the pronunciation for words.

Wikipedia also uses the IPA to show how certain words are meant to be spoken. Most symbols are letters in the Latin alphabet, or variations of it. For example, the palatal approximant (the y in yesterday) is written with []. In IPA symbols can be written between slashes (broad transcription, e.g."little" can be written as /lɪtl/ ) or in square brackets ( narrow transcription, e.g. "little" can be written [lɪɾɫ] ). Narrow translation is more precise than broad.

The IPA has symbols only for sounds that are used normally in spoken languages. The Extended IPA is used to write down other sounds.

The IPA is sometimes changed, and symbols are added or taken away. Right now there are 107 different letters in the IPA. There are also 52 marks which are added to letters to change their sound. These marks are called "diacritics."


In 1886, a group of French and British language teachers formed the International Phonetic Association. These teachers used the Romic alphabet at first. They later changed the alphabet so that different languages would all write the same sounds with the same letters.

Use of the alphabet

The IPA is made to have one symbol for each sound. This means that every letter always makes the same one sound. This is different from English. In English, some letters make multiple sounds. For example, the letter <x> in English normally is spoken as two sounds ([ks]), but could also mean [gz] or [z].


The International Phonetic Alphabet has letters for three types of sounds: pulmonic consonants, non-pulmonic consonants, and vowels.

Pulmonic consonants

Pulmonic consonants are made by obstructing air coming from the lungs. Most consonants (and all English consonants) are pulmonic. The symbols for these sounds are arranged in a table. The rows show how the sound is made, and the columns show where it is made.

Where the sound is made → Labial Coronal Dorsal Radical Glottal
Bi­la­bial La­bio­dental Den­tal Al­veo­lar Post­al­veo­lar Re­tro­flex Pa­la­tal Ve­lar Uvu­lar Pha­ryn­geal Epi­glot­tal
How the sound is made ↓
Nasal    [[bilabial nasal|]]    [[labiodental nasal|]]    [[alveolar nasal|]]    [[retroflex nasal|]]    [[palatal nasal|]]    [[velar nasal|]]    [[uvular nasal|]]  
Plosive [[voiceless bilabial plosive|]] [[voiced bilabial plosive|]] [[voiceless labiodental plosive|]] [[voiced labiodental plosive|]] [[voiceless alveolar plosive|]] [[voiced alveolar plosive|]] [[voiceless retroflex plosive|]] [[voiced retroflex plosive|]] [[voiceless palatal plosive|]] [[voiced palatal plosive|]] [[voiceless velar plosive|]] [[voiced velar plosive|]] [[voiceless uvular plosive|]] [[voiced uvular plosive|]]   [[epiglottal plosive|]] [[glottal stop|]]  
Fricative [[voiceless bilabial fricative|]] [[voiced bilabial fricative|]] [[voiceless labiodental fricative|]] [[voiced labiodental fricative|]] [[voiceless dental fricative|]] [[voiced dental fricative|]] [[voiceless alveolar fricative|]] [[Consonant|]] [[voiceless postalveolar fricative|]] [[voiced postalveolar fricative|]] [[voiceless retroflex fricative|]] [[voiced retroflex fricative|]] [[voiceless palatal fricative|]] [[voiced palatal fricative|]] [[voiceless velar fricative|]] [[voiced velar fricative|]] [[voiceless uvular fricative|]] [[voiced uvular fricative|]] [[voiceless pharyngeal fricative|]] [[voiced pharyngeal fricative|]] [[voiceless epiglottal fricative|]] [[voiced epiglottal fricative|]] [[voiceless glottal fricative|]] [[voiced glottal fricative|]]
Approximant    [[bilabial approximant|]]    [[labiodental approximant|]]    [[alveolar approximant|]]    [[retroflex approximant|]]    [[palatal approximant|]]   a [[velar approximant|]]      
Trill    [[bilabial trill|]]    [[alveolar trill|]]     retroflex trill    [[uvular trill|]]    [[epiglottal trill|]]| colspan="2" style="background:#ccc" |  
Tap or Flap    ⱱ̟        [[alveolar tap|]]    [[retroflex flap|]]      ɢ̆      [[epiglottal flap|]]  
Lateral Fricative [[voiceless alveolar lateral fricative|]] [[voiced alveolar lateral fricative|]] *    *    *       
Lateral Approx­imant    [[alveolar lateral approximant|]]    [[retroflex lateral approximant|]]    [[palatal lateral approximant|]]    [[velar lateral approximant|]]  
Lateral Flap      [[alveolar lateral flap|]]    |    [[palatal lateral flap|]]    [[velar lateral flap|]]    

Non-pulmonic consonants

Non-pulmonic consonants are made without air coming from the lungs. There are three types of non-pulmonic consonants. Implosive consonants are made by taking air into the mouth. Ejective consonants are made by forcing the air out of the voicebox instead of the lungs. Click consonants are made by creating an airtight pocket in the mouth and quickly releasing it.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Alfabeto Fonético Internacional para niños

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