What comes to your mind when you see the acronym IPA? It doesn’t only represent the beer India Pale Ale, but also the International Phonetic Alphabet containing all phonemes. This is an alphabetic system based primarily on the Latin script. Every linguist has to learn phonetics, a branch of linguistics, at the beginning of his or her studies. You learn how to transcribe a written text into a phonetic transcription.
What is a phoneme?
Have you heard the term phoneme before? A phoneme is a unit of sound in a language that can distinguish one word from another. For instance, the phonemes /c/ and /b/ as in the English words cat and bat. All phonemes can be found in the IPA.
We distinguish consonant sounds and vowel sounds (a,e,i,o,u). Our speech doesn’t start in our lungs, it starts in our brains. In short, we create a message and give it a lexico-grammatical structure in our mind. After this, we use our speech organs to produce an utterance.
Every language in the world has its very distinct speech sounds such as the sound in German, the in English or the unique sound in Welsh.
Watch the video to learn more about rare sounds such as clicks and labial-velars from Africa, pharyngeals found in Arabic, the sounds in English and many more. Enjoy!
Written by Victoria Milhan, Schuman Communication Trainee Terminology Coordination Unit. She holds master’s degrees in English Language (linguistics) and Medieval English Literature, Newer English Literature and Celtic Studies. Victoria is enrolled as a PhD student at Bonn University in Germany.