Tuesday 9 November 2010

what do raised letters mean?

What does it mean if certain phonetic symbols are printed small and raised above the line? How does the IPA define their meaning? Here’s what it said in the 1949 booklet The Principles of the International Phonetic Association. I’m not sure how far back this convention went, but I think it was valid for most of the twentieth century.At the Kiel Convention of the IPA in 1989, however, this was revised. You see the outcome of the Kiel deliberations in the current IPA Chart and the 1999 Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Now there is no general rule such as previously existed, but just a listing of the following diacritics (and only these):

ʰ Aspirated tʰ dʰ
ʷ Labialized tʷ dʷ
ʲ Palatalized tʲ dʲ
ˠ Velarized tˠ dˠ
ˤ Pharyngealized tˤ dˤ
n Nasal release dn
l Lateral release dl

Thus in the current official IPA raised symbols may denote
  • phonation features, more specifically VOT (ʰ),
  • secondary articulations (ʷ, ʲ, ˠ,ˤ), or
  • types of plosive release (n, l).
The old convention, by which ʃs denoted an s-like variety of ʃ, is no longer recognized. Nor is the use of ʳ (or ʴ or ʵ or ʶ) for an r-coloured vowel.

It is worth mentioning that at no time has the IPA used raised symbols to denote quick transitional sounds, although that is what people often wrongly infer as the meaning of this convention. Nor does ə denote a “weak” schwa, as one of my recent correspondents assumed. (In English every ə is weak, anyway, in my terminology.)

All uses of raised alphabetic symbols other than those listed above are ad hoc conventions that must be defined by the author who uses them. (That’s why I defined what I meant by ˀ the other day when I used it to show the Danish stød.)

In LPD I use raised symbols to denote optional sounds that the EFL learner is advised to ignore (“although native speakers sometimes include them” — see the panel on Optional Sounds, p. 567 in the third edition).
I use them in particular for
  • the əC alternative to a syllabic consonant, thus hidden ˈhɪd ən
  • possible epenthetic plosives, thus emphasis ˈempf əs ɪs;
  • possible epenthetic schwa before a liquid, thus fail feɪəl.


  1. The current symbolisation of secondary articulations is not too far from the old convention you mention, but now we have the unsystematicity of some symbols encoding temporal precedence (aspiration or release symbols) while others encode temporal equivalence (the secondary articulation ones). In fact, the timing can vary quite a bit, of course, so English "dark" [l] often audibly has the velar or pharyngeal gesture coming in before the alveolar one, but we write it [lˠ] or [lˁ] I've always presented myself to students as a grumpy old man moaning about this, but I think it's an important concept and really that's just been my way of teaching it. I agree the raised symbols cause quite a bit of confusion and I've also found it common to come across [kʷ] meaning [kw̆] (I mean a breve over the w in that second transcription, since the chances of everyone being able to see the precise IPA I intended are low!).

    In my own transcriptions I tend to use raised symbols over the basic symbol to represent the old meanings (often vowel resonance qualities in consonants) but if these qualities change during the consonant I find myself writing one symbol slightly before the main symbol and one slightly after, which then causes confusion with the official IPA conventions and in any case gets hard to typeset.

    My usual solution is to get verbose: I've just looked in my notebook and the latest transcription I did includes a big arrow from a [n] leading to the following text: front of centre resonance giving some impression of [ɪ] offglide to preceding vowel. (!)

  2. In transcriptions of Cornish, pre-occlusion is marked as [ᵇm] and [ᵈn].

  3. Regarding aspiration as a function of VOT, /tʰ/ makes sense since ʰ means a delayed voice onset (i.e. positive VOT).

    But what can /dʰ/ mean? The /d/ is a voiced consonant so it must have zero or negative VOT.

    The voiced plosives usually transcribed /bʰ/, /dʰ/, /gʰ/ and so on (as in Hindi, for example) are not "aspirated" in the same sense as the English voiceless plosives /pʰ/, /tʰ/ and /kʰ/. So is the ʰ symbol being used in a slightly different sense here?

  4. Perhaps the nasal-release symbol ⁿ looks odd after [b] or [g]: [bⁿ] instead of [bᵐ], [gⁿ] instead of [gᵑ]?

  5. IIRC the voiced aspirates of Hindi are technically breathy-voiced stops; [bʰ dʰ gʰ] is not strictly accurate (though convenient and probably allowed for phonemic transcription), it should be [bʱ dʱ gʱ], where the [ʱ] indicates breathy voice. I suppose you could also write them as [b̤ d̤ g̤].

  6. @Pete:

    Yes, the Hini "voiced aspirates" are usually analyzed as breathy-voiced, although to my non-native ears the auditory effect is more noticeable in the succeeding vowel (if any) than in the consonant itself.

    It's noteworthy that, while the native Brahmic scripts have separate atomic characters for both the aspirated consonants, non-native scripts such as Urdu write them as the unaspirated consonant plus "h" or equivalent.

  7. @John Wells:
    I know that when I paste a quote from LPD I should be conscientious in editing the quotes from the garbage that the quote box and even MSWord make of it back into a form that's recognizable as the original, but I'm afraid I'm less than consistent in my conscientiousness on this. This is probably worse than pasting the garbage as is with apologies, but I hope I have never misled anyone into thinking otherwise of the raised letters than you intend. It's been perfectly clear to me from the start what they mean, and your explanation in the book is more than adequate. It's a good system, and so is your use of italics, degrees of syllabicity etc.

    I am not so sure about the rather different form of shorthand exemplified by the i in biˈliːv and words with similar prefixes, and it seems to be causing your commentators quite a bit of angst. You do define it, but unlike the raised letters that you use in a way not recognized by the IPA, but not resulting in any conflict with it, this i has an established use in the IPA.

    This established use is obviously quite happily reflected by its use in 'variation', 'ratio' and 'glorious', and for [ˈhæpi] alongside [ˈhæpɪ] (and variants in between, as you say) for happY /ˈhapi/, or even not alongside the other variants, on the principle that they are predictable by a realization rule for /i/ in those positions, and can be left understood. Of course that principle does have to be stated, and you have stated it. It can quite unproblematically be extended to 'multilateral,' polytechnic' etc., if they are treated as consisting of two phonotagms.

    But it is not reflected by its use in biˈliːv and words with similar prefixes, because they do not parallel that free variance, the variants being differently distributed by different speakers of RP, and variously so distributed on the basis of lexical and morphological determination rather than anything that can be predicted by phonology and phonetics without some panoply of ordered rules or Optimality Theory which you can hardly make explicit in a work like LPD and no doubt would not wish to.

    It looks as though some people have found it a bridge too far. It confuses people. I thought for a moment that Steve was agreeing with an intended contrasting treatment in LPD of the words despair (dɪ ˈspeə) and destroy (di ˈstrɔɪ). (See yesterday's discussion.) Now I'm wondering if you might have got some statistical basis for a difference based on people's perceptions of morphologically related words, and have looked to see if I could see any evidence of this. I couldn't, but the next thing I saw was:
    despatch verb di ˈspætʃ də- as opposed to
    dispatch verb dɪ ˈspætʃ də-

    They're just different spellings of the same word! And I know I can't mention etymology, but di ˈspætʃ with [i] seems inconceivable to me (and I think you do consistently have ɪ for all the relevant forms of dis-, so that I have no problem with dissent dɪˈsent as opposed to descent diˈsent), and notwithstanding the transcription di ˈspætʃ the sound files for both 'despatch' and 'dispatch' have [ɪ] or AmE [ə], which itself is not too far removed from [ɪ]!

    But Iit does confuse people, and there's evidence in the sound files as well. Both BrE and AmE readers have what sound like identical pronunciations [priːˈdeɪt] for:
    pre|date ‘antedate’ (ˌ)priː |ˈdeɪt
    pre|date ‘prey on’ pri |ˈdeɪt prə-

    @ Anon and vp:
    Yes, ʱ (dec 689, hex 02B1 – breathy-voice-aspirated) must have been meant to be in John's list above, since he says of it "the following diacritics (and only these)".

  8. @mallamb Yes, ʱ (dec 689, hex 02B1 – breathy-voice-aspirated) must have been meant to be in John's list above, since he says of it "the following diacritics (and only these)".
    Sorry, you're mistaken. The symbol ʱ is NOT recognized in the IPA chart. Check it out here. However it IS used, inconsistently, in the Handbook sample of Hindi.

    (For the rest, please wait till tomorrow.)

  9. @vp

    With the Arabo-Persian script, you have two options when it comes to applying it to the Indo-Aryan languages: come up with a generic mark of aspiration, or create new symbols for the aspirated phonemes from scratch. Urdu went the former way. Sindhi went the latter.

  10. @John Wells
    Sorry, I was going by your own version of what I thought you were saying was recognized in the IPA chart, on your old site here, under "Unicode decimal and hex numbers for IPA symbols
    The Unicode manual lists code numbers only in hexadecimal. Here they are listed with their decimal numbers as well," subsection "Spacing diacritics and suprasegmentals", last revised 2008 03 23.

    I look forward to your blog entry for tomorrow with some trepidation. I'm too decrepit to search out my flak jacket, and it probably wouldn't still fit me. But I'm sure you'll have a good (and kind) answer.

  11. Collins (RP) uses a raised ʳ to denote optional linking R, e.g. "bore" bɔːʳ. But only when there is indeed an orthographic r - e.g. "spar" spɑːʳ vs "spa" spɑː.


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