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Audio Transcript: Pure Verbal Transcription

audio transcript ipa chart

What would be a pure audio transcript?  I mean just a transcription of sound?  How do you transcribe a language if you don’t know it?  How do you convey in written form the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word?  For some kinds of transcription (especially in the field of linguistics) these are real questions.

This is part of a set of posts on different kinds of transcription, transcription technology, and uses of transcribing.

An Audio Transcript That’s Pronounceable

How do you create an audio transcript that shows pronunciation?  You’ve probably seen versions of this in some dictionaries.  It’s called the International Phonetic Alphabet.


That’s how the word ‘transcription’ is shown.

Verbal Transcription:  The International Phonetic Alphabet

To help create audio transcripts that would help linguists and learners, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was invented in the late 19th Century by a group of language teachers from England and France.  Their aim was to create a single alphabet that was usable across different languages for the study of language.  It would be able to transcribe the sounds of any language, without the messiness of word origin making spelling illogical, and without the transcriber needing to know the language.  In general it assigns one letter to each sound, and it uses primarily Latin letters.

The IPA is used in verbal transcription by language students and educators, writers of dictionaries, linguists, speech pathologists, singers, actors, and translators.  The Oxford English Dictionary uses it to represent the pronunciation of words, while most American dictionaries use some other respelling system which is more intuitively understood by readers of English.

The IPA is widely used by classical singers, especially to sing in languages other than their own.  Opera makes good use of transcription!   You may have read an English transcript at the opera in the form of surtitles, but maybe you didn’t know that the soprano singing the aria used an IPA transcript to get the right Italian pronunciations.


Carmen Perry

The Wide World of Transcription