TYPES OF NOTATIONAL SYSTEMS


Most phonetic transcription is based on the assumption that linguistic sounds are segmentable into discrete units that can be represented by symbols. Many different types of transcription, or "notation", have been tried out: these may be divided into Alphabetic (which are based on the same principle as that which governs ordinary alphabetic writing, namely that of using one single simple symbol to represent each sound), and Analphabetic (notations which are not alphabetic) which represent each sound by a composite symbol made up of a number of signs put together.


The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is the most widely-used and well-known of present-day phonetic alphabets, and has a long history. It was created in the nineteenth century by European language teachers and linguists. It soon developed beyond its original purpose as a tool of foreign language pedagogy and is now also used extensively as a practical alphabet of phoneticians and linguists.

Aspects of alphabetic transcription

The International Phonetic Association recommends that a phonetic transcription should be enclosed in square brackets "[ ]". A transcription that specifically denotes only phonological contrasts may be enclosed in slashes "/ /" instead. If one is unsure, it is best to use brackets since by setting off a transcription with slashes, one makes a theoretical claim that every symbol phonemically contrasts for the language being transcribed.

For phonetic transcriptions, there is flexibility in how closely sounds may be transcribed. A transcription that gives only a basic idea of the sounds of a language in the broadest terms is called a broad transcription; in some cases, it may be equivalent to a phonemic transcription (only without any theoretical claims). A close transcription, indicating precise details of the sounds, is called a narrow transcription. They are not binary choices but the ends of a continuum, with many possibilities in between. All are enclosed in brackets.


In iconic phonetic notation, the shapes of the phonetic characters are designed so that they visually represent the position of articulators in the vocal tract. This is unlike alphabetic notation, where the correspondence between character shape and articulator position is arbitrary. This notation is potentially more flexible than alphabetic notation in showing more shades of pronunciation .


Another type of phonetic notation that is more precise than alphabetic notation is analphabetic phonetic notation. Instead of both the alphabetic and iconic notational types' general principle of using one symbol per sound, analphabetic notation uses long sequences of symbols to precisely describe the component features of an articulatory gesture (MacMahon 1996:842–844). This type of notation is reminiscent of the notation used in chemical formulas to denote the composition of chemical compounds. Although more descriptive than alphabetic notation, analphabetic notation is less practical for many purposes (e.g. for descriptive linguists doing fieldwork or for speech pathologists impressionistically transcribing speech disorders). As a result, this type of notation is uncommon.


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