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How do you write words using the phonetic alphabet?

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Quick Answer

Write words in the most commonly used phonetic alphabet, the International Phonetic Alphabet, by transcribing each unique sound in a word to the corresponding symbol. As of 2015, the IPA uses 107 letters, coupled with 52 diacritics and four prosodic marks, to denote the sounds made in every human language.

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Full Answer

As an example, transcription of the word "phonetic" incorporates seven symbols. The first describes a labiodental fricative consonant, while the second is a schwa vowel sound. The third is an alveolar nasal consonant, followed by an non-rounded front open-middle vowel. After the fifth symbol, a dental plosive consonant, and the sixth, an near-close and near-front unrounded vowel, the transcription concludes with a velar plosive consonant.

The IPA was formed by the International Phonetic Association in the late 19th century by a group of British and French linguists who wished to standardize a script for all language description. It was largely based off of the Romic alphabet, an English-language spelling reformation. After formalization in 1888, the alphabet was majorly revised in 1900, 1932, 1989 and 1993. The last reformation removed letters for voiceless implosive consonants and added characters for four mid-central vowels. A minor revision in 2005 added a letter for a labiodental flap sound, found in several Central African languages.

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