I'm looking for standard IPA but every book, even dictionaries implement it differently.

for example [ɑ] and [ɑ:] or this symbol [ɛ] vs [e].

Some books omit the [i] sound which is the last sound of word happy, and some books say that this symbol equals [iː].

This also happens to [uː]. I know that colons like symbols are for length, but why is there so many differences? Even Wikipedia says:

Please note that several of these symbols are used in ways that are specific to Wikipedia and differ from those used by dictionaries.


Where is the standard form that every text should obey?

And what's the role of these ones in the game? Bold ones.

[ɑ] AH

[ɜ] UR

[ɔ] AW

  • 1
    IPA is a way of representing the sounds of a language, not its phonemes. Since Americans and British pronounce things differently, some words are different: for example, the pronunciation of beard is represented by /bɪəd/ in British English and /bɪrd/ in American English. Recently the pronunciation of the vowel in coat changed in British English (not American), and many British dictionaries changed the IPA from /koʊt/ to /kəʊt/. Wikipedia is trying to represent all major varieties of English with one set of IPA phonemes, so they compromise. And they still don't manage to do it. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 13:31
  • There is no overall standard for phonetics.
    – Helmar
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 13:33
  • @PeterShor By difference I mean, one dictionary uses [a] for father and next proven dictionary uses [a:] for father. Isn't it an accepted international alphabet? why they use whatever they like? Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 13:36
  • @Helmar Is there any links? Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 13:36
  • Father should be /ɑː/; this means a long vowel /ɑ/. You only need to use the length mark if a language has contrasting long and short vowels. British English sort of does. (e.g. /ɑ:/ is always long and /ʌ/ is always short, but the actual vowel sounds used for these can be quite close and length is one of the cues BrE speakers use to distinguish between them). American English does not use vowel length this way, so the length marks are completely pointless in AmE. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


The range of sounds denoted by the symbols of the IPA are defined by the International Phonetic Association. Consider the T sound: it is pronounced differently in tick (aspirated as [tʰ]), stick (unaspirated as [t]), latter (flapped as [ɾ]), and pat (unreleased as [t̚]). The IPA is an International Phonetic Alphabet, which means it has different symbols for each sound.

However, this is not how you expect a pronunciation to be denoted in a dictionary, which traditionally use phonemic systems. Such systems represent all the different ways a phoneme can be pronounced with a single symbol. The International Phonetic Association does not define how IPA symbols should be used for representing phonemes, which is what you are asking for. Indeed, there is no universal system for representing English phonemes, and there is no institute or academy that regulates English to decree one, either.

As you have discovered, the result of this situation is that every organization that has needed a phonemic system for representing English has had to borrow someone else's system or invent their own. Though they generally overlap in much of their symbol choices, there is no universal standard for the representation of English phonemes.

  • 2
    Hurray, two answers in the same day! And they say lightning doesn’t ever strike twice.
    – tchrist
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 3:49

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