Phonetics: the study and classification of speech sounds.

Let’s be honest, the English language is far from consistent. For this reason, linguists created the phonetic alphabet, a set of symbols used to demonstrate what letter(s) sound like. For example, the group of letters one.

  • alone = own
  • gone = on

The set of letters don’t rhyme; their pronunciations are different. This pair is a sight/eye rhyme, where the words look like they should sound similar but they don’t. Due to this seemingly random representation of letters, there is a system to classify the sounds and make sense of the English language.

Some of it looks familiar, but then there are symbols like ʃ = voiceless postalveolar fricative (“sh”).


To print this version, click here.

When I first saw it I thought it was a made up language, like children come up with to communicate with friends. I also thought it may have come from the font drop-down menu on Microsoft Word. Nope, it’s the real deal. (And it’s actually pretty cool.) Once you get the hang of it, decoding sentences in phonetic form is easy. Eventually, you can almost see the word it represents.

I    have a gift for you. When do you want to come over  to  the house to get it?
Aɪ  hæv  ə gɪft fɔr  ju.   Wɛn   du ju   wɑnt  tu kʌm ˈoʊvər tu ðə   haʊs   tu gɛt ɪt?
Two of the categories for this alphabet is voiced vs. voiceless. Try this out. Put two fingers on your throat. Place them over your vocal cords. Make the sound “ja” like the j in job. Do you feel your voice cords moving? Now, make the sound “sh” like the sh in fish. Is there a vibration this time? The first sound, dʒ, was voiced and the second sound, ʃ, was not. Neat trick, huh? Simple, but effective.
If you want to hear all of the sounds, click here.
If you want a list of all of the phonetic symbols, click this link.
Go out and impress your friends. Teach them and you can write old fashioned, secret notes.

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