Comparison of ASCII phonetic alphabets

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Most, tho not all of these are based on the IPA.

A brief introduction of the systems:

  • X-SAMPA, a general extension of SAMPA designed to accommodate the entire IPA. Z-SAMPA, develop'd on the ZBB, is a fully backwards compatible extension that includes the Extensions to the IPA and various other symbols, such as true mid vowels. Z-SAMPA extensions are mark'd by a green background.
  • CXS is another variation of X-SAMPA used mostly on the CONLANG list. It is not entirely backwards compatible.
  • Kirshenbaum is a somewhat more limited system that makes good use of diacritics, but has to quickly resort to diacritics such as <trl> (yes, that's a pentagraph) to describe sounds outside its "core focus" of English phonetics.
  • TIPA, used in LaTeX typesetting of IPA.
  • WorldBet (description needed)
  • Carrasquer (description needed)
  • Branner (description needed)

I am purposely exclusing the Coutts-Barrett system, based on graphical mnemonics to suggest IPA letters. It is very non-compatible with all the other systems, both in the details (for example, -d for /ð/, or n) for /ŋ/), and in being prefixing rather than postfixing. I've also never seen it in use anywhere!

Symbols expressible by means of diacritics are not included in the table.

Latin minuscules

Aluckily, just about everyone agrees that these should be equated with their IPA values. Tabulating these would be a waste of spacetime :-) Let's just remark on the habit of sometimes falling back on transcription based on some specific language's orthography. Common cases include <y> for /j/, which may be follo'd with <j> for /ʤ/ and <c> for /ʧ/ or /ʦ/. A good indicator of this type of transcription is seeing <š ž> for /ʃ ʒ/.


There is little disagreement over these assignments. Exceptions in red.

IPA SAMPoids Kirsh. TIPA WB Carr. Brann. Comments
ɑ A A A A A A
β B B B V B V ‹V› is not illogical. Branner's smallcaps → caps standard also means B will have to be /ʙ/.
ç C C C C C c"
ð D D D D D D
ɛ E E E E E E
ɪ I I I I I I
ɱ F M M M M M SAMPA ‹M› is /ɯ/.
ŋ N N N N N ng) Branner ‹N› is /ɴ/.
ɔ O O O > O O WorldBet appears to leave ‹O› unused.
ʃ S S S S S S
θ T T T T T T
ʊ U U U U U U
χ X X X X X X
ʏ Y I. Y Y Y Y Kirshenbaum breiks here the well-estabilish'd pattern to use capitals for lax vowels, instead going for the rounding diacritic. This is because Y is /ø/. How this is supposed to be logical (as opposed to making /ø/ ‹e.›) escapes me.
ʒ Z Z Z Z Z Z
ə @ @ @ & @ @ WorldBet ‹@› is, somewhat backwardly, /æ/.
ʔ  ?  ? P  ?  ?  ? TIPA may be, I suspect, unable to use the question mark.
ː  :  :  :  :  :  :
◌̃ ~ ~ \~ ~ ~^
◌̪ _d [ \|[ [ [ [ Dental bridge. Prefixed in TIPA.

Competing standards

Assignments that are fairly intuitiv, yet not sufficiently so.

An obvious subsection is the issue of IPA smallcaps. Branner, WorldBet for the most part, and in some cases Kirshenbaum go for the graphically obvious substitution by the corresponding actual capitals. Other systems notice this too, but add some escape caracter, to be able to free the simple capitals to some other use.

IPA SAMPoids Kirsh. TIPA WB Carr. Brann. Comments
ɣ G Q G G G g" Arguably /ɣ/ fits better together here, due to the pattern set by ‹B D›.
ʎ L l^ L L L y& Kirshenbaum demonstrating its "palatal" diacritic, and Branner its graphical-mnemonic structure. Yet other assignments for ‹L› exist, for example /ɬ/ in Uralistics.
ʁ R g" (??) R K R* R&

ʙ B\ b<trl> \;B B B" B Kirshenbaum goes with the ‹B› = /β/ crowd, and switches to featural description.
ɢ G\ G \;G Q G" G
ʜ H\ \;H H H" H
ʟ L\ L \;L - L" L
ɴ N\ n" \;N Nq N Kirshenbaum has an "uvular" diacritic too.
ʀ R\ r" \;R R R" R
IPA X-SAMPA CXS Kirsh. TIPA WB Carr. Brann. Comments
æ { & & æ @ & ae) SAMPA is supposed to be on the premise that this "looks like A in smiley-view". Most others rather play into the graphical similarity combined with the mnemonic "and" ([ænd]!). WorldBet ‹&› is, somewhat backwardly, /ə/.
— TIPA maintains Latin-1 compatibility.
ɸ p\ P F F F P F One of SAMPA's sillier features, IMHO. Considering the symmetry of ‹T D›, your author quite prefers ‹P B›.
ɟ   J\ J \textbardotlessj J J j-
ʝ   j\ C<vcd> J j- j" j"
ʋ P v\ r<lbd> V V[ V v" Another oddity of original SAMPA.
ɲ   J n^ \textltailn n~ n" nj)

No standard

On the transcription of the "fancy" i.e. front rounded, central, and back unrounded vowels there seems to be little consensus, though recourse to numerals is common.

IPA X-SAMPA CXS Kirsh. TIPA WB Carr. Brann. Comments
ø   2 Y \o 7 o" o"
œ   9 &. \oe 8 O" oe)
ɶ & &\ W \OE 6 &* OE)
ɨ 1 i\ i" 1 i" i-
ɘ @\ - 9 e" e& Conflated with /ə/ in Kirshenbaum.
ɜ   3 V" 3 - E" E&
ɐ 6 - 5 a" a&
ʉ } u\ u" 0 u" u-
ɵ   8 @. 8 - e* o-
ɞ 3\ O" \textcloseepsilon E* E"
ɯ M u- W U" W
ɤ   7 - 7 2 o* U"
ʌ   V ^ 2 Λ A* V& Thanks, WorldBet, I'm sure that capital lambda is very ASCII-compatible. /rolls eyes
ɒ   Q A. 6 A" A&

Numbers and punctuation

IPA SAMPoids Kirsh. TIPA WP Carr. Brann. Comments
. . (??) . - (??) . Syllable break
ˈ " ' " - ' ' Primary stress
ˌ  % , "" - , , Secondary stress. Why the heck is SAMPA making this more difficult than needs be?
IPA SAMPoids Kirsh. TIPA WB Carr. Brann. Comments
ʼ _> ` > ` ` Ejective apostrophe
(N/A) _< ` \! < " $ Implosive. If ejectivs get to have a single diacritic, why not these too? Kirshenbaum cuts a corner by using the same symbol for both, making it difficult to transcribe voiceless implosivs tho. Carrasquer uses its all-purpose diacritic #1, the quotation mark. An exception worth noting is that /ʛ/ is however G*. Similarly, Branner has j$ for /ʄ/.
(N/A) ` . \: r . r) Retroflex. Prefixed in TIPA. WorldBet appears unable to distinguish these from alveolar+/r/ clusters.
(N/A) (N/A)  ! (N/A) |  !  ! Clicks. SAMPA and, by necessity, TIPA have independent symbols for all.

External links