Is it important to teach the phoenetic alphabet?

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Is it important to teach the phoenetic alphabet?

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jan 24, 2008, 2:02pm

I never really saw the value in learning the international phoetic alphabet--apart from maybe being able to pronounce unknown words in a dictionary. Why is it important? Doyou think students should learn it as part of grammar in school?

jan 24, 2008, 8:27pm

If you would like the students to have the tools they need to study language (native or foreign) independantly, then yes, it should be compulsory!

jan 24, 2008, 9:18pm

Icemuff, how does it help? Can you give me an example outside of pronunciation.

jan 24, 2008, 10:17pm

Language lives in man because it is spoken. If you cannot speak a (living) language, then why learn it (assuming you're not mute).

The IPA is all about pronunciation, but pronunciation is more than you maybe think it is. Think about it; the IPA is an alphabet independant of any one particular language.

Phonetic analysis requires the transcription of the sounds used to make up a spoken language. These transcriptions must clearly and accurately describe any and all sounds used in the language being transcribed with no contamination of the transcriber's accent (think about how English is written and the lack of phonetic logic within the written language; such mess is the opposite of what any linguist wants to end up with). Therefore, a writing system, independent of any one particular language, capable of describing any and every sound that could possibly be produced by the human vocal tract, was needed so that any person, anywhere in the world could understand the sounds being described in the transcription.

If a researcher wants to see if there is a link between the half-long O used in Minnesota and the O used in Icelandic they can pull up transcriptions of regional speakers and compare the transcriptions.

Long story short ( :D )the IPA is essential to the scientific description and recording of human language.

jan 24, 2008, 10:34pm

And what would that first scene of My Fair Lady be without the IPA? ;)

jan 24, 2008, 10:42pm

Actually, I learned IPA in acting classes for the purpose of performing dialects.

jan 25, 2008, 12:05am

I'd love to learn IPA; I already know a little, but not much.

Are there book/CD combos that can be used for self-instruction?

jan 25, 2008, 12:16am

Icemuff thanks for clarifying things. Makes sense now when expressed that way. Usually teachers just say "because it's important" or "it's part of language". I liked your global explanation :)

jan 25, 2008, 4:13am

The IPA makes perfect sense for giving everybody, regardless of language of origin, a set of intelligible signs identifying certain sounds. Think of it like the periodic table of elements, but for speech.

Where it becomes more tricky is combining those sounds into words, and the unfortunate fact that institutions use short-cuts in language instruction, and sometimes it gets pretty political. This is not the fault of the IPA (just as carbon dioxide emissions can't be blamed on the periodic table). This becomes a human issue.

Here's an anecdotal account of my experience:

jan 25, 2008, 9:14am

>eastofoz: Your welcome!

>chamekke: You should start your search here:

And shame on me! I didn't realize they had updated it again in 2005!

jan 25, 2008, 11:07am

#10 - Thank you for the link! I have to toddle off to work now, but I'm looking forward to spending some hours on that site. It looks great.

(By the way, is anyone else on this thread continually having to shake themselves for "reading" IPA as India Pale Ale? Blush.)

jan 25, 2008, 11:10am

(By the way, is anyone else on this thread continually having to shake themselves for "reading" IPA as India Pale Ale? Blush.)

I was a linguistics major, so I actually have the opposite problem. Significantly dorkier.

jan 25, 2008, 11:17am

Put me on the Pale Ale side of the fence.

Icemuff - many thanks for that link. I'm going to grab an IPA some time and spend a little time listening to some of those files. This is something I'd like to understand better.

Redigeret: jan 25, 2008, 12:18pm


Did you ever use the IPA euphemistically? I had a friend that was a Linguistics major and we would say (inappropriate, yes, but so rarely understood by others that it never mattered) things to each other like "I've got a bilabial fricative that'll give you a voiced plosive you never thought possible!"*

Just thought I'd see if it was just us.

*Jokingly, of course!

feb 5, 2008, 9:37pm

14 - Quadrilabial clicks, advanced tongue root, extra-linguolabial trills, ...

feb 6, 2008, 4:06am

Oh what a cunning linguist you are ...

mar 14, 2008, 6:31am

I remember having learned to use IPA when I began studying English 40 years ago. Besides the fact that I found it extremely funny to decipher, it seems to me that English, with its too subtle variations of pronunciation, cannot be spoken correctly without the help of IPA. (Except if it's your native language of course. ;-) Two years before learning English, I learned German, which, having very strict and regular rules of pronunciation, is absolutely straightforward and doesn't need the help of IPA—at least for a French palate. So I would say that IPA is a must for certain languages and superfluous for others. But surely, the more remote the language is from your native tongue, the safer it is to rely on IPA.

mar 15, 2008, 2:21pm

English doesn't have pure vowels like French or German. English has unwritten rules. In a one syllable word with a short vowel, the vowel is actually pronounced a micosecond longer when the the syllable ends in a voiced consonant then if it is unvoiced. This is partially why English can be filled with lots of one syllable words and everyone understands each other despite the similarities in the sounds. I'm not sure that IPA covers that kind of subtle practice. I'm not even sure that what I have just written is true in every English language dialect.

okt 13, 2012, 7:07pm

I think IPA should be taught to young children-- perhaps in primary school. That way, when they are introduced to foreign languages, they can learn the sounds/how to pronounce words when the teacher writes in IPA on the board.

When I was in high school, my Latin teacher often used IPA-- I was the only one who understood!

It is also very useful in choirs, especially with foreign language pieces.

okt 14, 2012, 9:39am

IPA does not solve all problems in language learning. If you don't have a sound in your native language, then knowing what squiggle represents it in IPA is no help. I ran into this problem trying to understand Swedish vowels from a book, without having any Swedish to listen to. There is also the problem (mentioned in 18) of broad transcription which glossses over details of pronunciation: for example, the long "o" in southern English English becomes a different diphthong when it precedes "l", and is quite different from the sound in (say) Scottish English and New Zealand English.