Sunday, January 07, 2007

IPA or the International Phonetic Alphabet

I woke up having dreamt of OmegaWiki. I had a brainwave; it is easy to include IPA into OmegaWiki. I sprinted out of bed, asked Leftmost if it could be done, it could and then I started to look into IPA for the first time. I have started reading and I do admit understanding the text is beyond me. Some facts that can be found:
  • IPA has approximately 107 base symbols and 55 modifiers.
  • There is a specific chart for the sounds of English.
  • Different resources use IPA in different ways.
  • There are even different symbols used for British English :(
The observation that I always made was that on the English Wiktionary there is one "broad" IPA transcription. And, it is also made clear that the English language publications "cheat" to make it better understandable for people who already speak English.

The result is that, yes we can enter IPA transcriptions when we enable it. The problem however is that we should not allow IPA transcriptions optimised for the English speakers. OmegaWiki is to be used by people with ANY language as a background.

I think that before we enable IPA transcriptions there should be some more discussion.



Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, the main “cheats” are that English-style IPA uses “r” instead of “ɹ”. It’s not really cheating however: see Wikipedia’s explanation of narrow vs. broad transcription.

GerardM said...

In the blog I refer to different resources that use IPA differently. They are all English language resources and these differences are profound.


Jeroen Hellingman said...

For most purposes a broad transcription is good enough. This includes applications such as
learning by foreign speakers, pronunciation guide for uncommon words for native speakers, etc. A broad transcription always needs
to be accompanied with a set of guidelines to translate these to exact pronunciations. Broad transcriptions also have the benefit
that they can (intentionally) ignore regional variations in pronunciation.

A narrow transcription is useful to people who study the exact realization of words, and for studies of regional variations that may not even
desirable for a learner.

Some bilingual dictionaries include pronunciation guides, adopting a kind of ad-hoc transcription scheme. I have recently scanned an old English-Spanish-Tagalog dictionary for Project Gutenberg that includes the pronunciation of English using Spanish orthography.

Note that, given a sufficiently well defined notation (which may be IPA), automatic derivation of some other schemes may be feasible, that is, you can translate the a narrow notation of British English pronunciation of a word to a broad notation, using rules of Spanish orthography.

Denis said...

Transcription in a dictionary has to be broad since there are too many accents to account for.

You have to make a difference between the phonological transcription of a word in the lexicon, and the phonetic transcription of its utterance.

The first needs a broad transcription, and the second could require a very narrow transcription.

In any case the purpose of IPA has always been to provide symbols for phonological transcriptions. Phonetical transcripts are too complex if you really want accuracy.

GerardM said...

This is only true in a paper dictionary. In an electronic dictionary you have the potential to include multiple phonetic transcriptions. It just needs proper tagging.

ISO-639-6 helps with the proper tagging.