Phonetic Alphabets

The traditional alphabetical spelling system used to write in a language is called orthography (from Greek stems: ortho- 'correct', graphy 'writing'). The actual pronunciation of words in many languages, versus their written form however, has undergone significant change over time, and can also vary greatly between dialects. This is why even for languages whose writing systems are based on alphabets, the standard "correct" spellings often have little to do with how the words are pronounced - just think of the differences between written and spoken forms of words such as knot or through.
Furthermore, no two speakers ever say the "same thing" identically and it is quite amazing that we still are able to understand each other.

Phonetic alphabets are designed (and necessary) for writing down utterances in a way that records how they sound. They are systems, in which each symbol represents only one sound, and each sound is represented by only one symbol. Ideally, someone who never heard the original utterance should be able to recreate it simply by reading the written transcription out loud. The recording of speech using a phonetic alphabet is called transcription. Phonetic transcription allows us to step outside of orthography and to examine differences in pronunciation between dialects within a given language, as well as to identify changes in pronunciation that may take place over time.

Even though most textbooks on general linguistics and phonetics/phonology make use of the International Phonetic Alphabet, some American books use symbols that differ from the those symbols, e.g. the Americanist Phonetic Notation (APA). The exercises on this unit however, are strictly based on the IPA symbols for English pronunciation and this is why you should make yourself familiar with the IPA-charts before you move on.

Click on this link: IPA, to learn more about the International Phonetic Alphabet. You will also be directed to another website, where you can download your own printable IPA-chart. Once you are familiar with the different symbols, move on to the exercises provided below.

IPA exercises

Made yourself familiar with the IPA? Then it is time to check your knowledge and to test your transcription skills in the following exercises. Those colored in green are the easier exercises, the orange-colored ones are a bit more challenging and the red-colored ones are the most tricky exercises: