ASCII Alphabet - adaptation?

Paul Vandenbrink   Monday, January 05, 2004, 19:45 GMT
I was wondering when the ASCII Alphabet was originally designed and whether it's gone through any evolution since that point.

I am surprised at couple of the Diagraphs in use by ASCII for 2 common English Sounds.

When you make almost all of the other letters with a single letter, why use
"th" and "TH" for the "Thin" and "Then" sounds. You have removed the "h" for some other alternate sounds, so why not here too.
You could use Capital "T" for "thin" sounds and "D" for "then" sounds. They are certainly related. A lot of foreign learners pronounce "D" for "TH", because "TH" is a familar sound, and "D" sound very much like "TH to them.

Regards, Paul V
Paul V   Monday, January 05, 2004, 19:47 GMT
Sorry. I meant
TH" is a NOT familar sound, and so "D" sound very much like "TH to them.
Jaro   Monday, January 05, 2004, 20:02 GMT
Yeah, lot of learners pronounce the voiced th as D and the voice th as f,s,t. This is caused mainly by lack of good teachers who really know how to pronounce th and laziness of learners to learn it. I think that typing D or other letter instead of th is not a good idea.
Jim   Wednesday, January 07, 2004, 00:33 GMT
Why not use /ð/ for the voiced "th" sound and /þ/ for the unvoiced one?

This is a debate that I had with Tom a while ago*. I agree with you, Paul, I think that /T/ and /D/ would have been a better choice than /th/ and /TH/. It's easier to remember which is which if you're using /T/ and /D/.

It's a good point you bring up about the element of consistancy involved with the choice of /T/ and /D/. In Antimoon's system "measuring sheep" is transcribed as /meZ..riNSi:p/. /S/, /Z/ and /N/ are used; why not /T/ and /D/?

Why he chose /th/ and /TH/ is something you'd have to ask Tom.

Mispronunciation of these sounds is not entirely due to laziness and poor teachers. They are very difficult sounds for the native speakers of certain languages, e.g. Japanese, to get their tongues around.

Michal Ryszard Wojcik   Wednesday, January 07, 2004, 09:32 GMT
Originally, some 10 years ago, I had used "V" and "F" for "TH" and "th" respectively, in my English SuperMemo collection. When me and Tom were working on the ASCII alphabet to be used on Antimoon, we decided to use "TH" and "th".

My first English teacher recommended to say "v" and "f" for "that" and "think" rather than the more usual "d" and "t". To my ears, "vat" and "fink" are much better than "dat" and "tink". So I had my reasons for writing "V" and "F" in my personal collection.

But when it came to designing an alphabet to be used by other people, we wanted to avoid confusing learners by building the association "TH"-"V" or "TH"-"D".
Jaro   Wednesday, January 07, 2004, 13:41 GMT
My sister's English teacher recommended her to say "d" for the voiced th and "f" for the voiceless th.
Do you know how does she pronounce thirty? [fIrti] with rolling R
I don't know why English teachers here don't care much about proper pronuncination of pure English sounds. Maybe it's because the best teachers always teach advanced students and don't want to loose time with beginners.
Lou   Wednesday, January 07, 2004, 19:54 GMT
It's not really so difficult for learners to be able to pronounce the voiceless 'th' and the voiced 'th' if one explains to them how the sounds are made, for example where the tongue should be and which part of it touches which part of the mouth. It also helps for students to feel whether the vocal chords are vibrating or not with each of the sounds, by putting their hands to their throats. Sometimes it helps to have students make the sound 's' and then to move the tip of the tongue to block the air. The voiceless 'th' happens automatically then. Similarly, if students make a 'z' sound and once more block off the air, they find themselves making the voiced 'th'. Try it and see.
Jim   Wednesday, January 07, 2004, 23:50 GMT

Ven what about /S/ verses /s/, /Z/ verses /z/ and /N/ verses /n/? What were you foughts on vese?


I know some learners, not beginers either, that find /th/ and /TH/ to be quite difficult.
Paul V   Thursday, January 08, 2004, 06:42 GMT
Thanks, Michal
That was a very clear explanation.
And I quite understand. th and TH are difficult sounds and it makes sense
to spell them in way, that will not add difficulty for a foreign speaker. Just wanted to say that the ASCII Phonemic Alphabet, contains a couple of other neat ideas, in order to keep the size down and be logical. Both qualities make it easier to remember and use effectively.
Nice Job.
Regards, Paul Vandenbrink
Michal Ryszard Wojcik   Thursday, January 08, 2004, 08:35 GMT
The first reason for writing [S] for (sh) is that it resembles the IPA symbol. The second reason is that we don't expect learners to confuse (s) and (sh) in English.

Then [Z] follows as an analogy to [S].

We also considered writing the dollar symbol $ for (sh) but we were not sure if it was available on all keyboards and in all fonts, so we rejected it.
Michal Ryszard Wojcik   Tuesday, January 13, 2004, 08:28 GMT
This demonstration of the ASCII Phonetic Alphabet
has some additional symbols - it's written in the Extended ASCII Phonetic Alphabet.

For example, it has:
[(@)] for the choice between [..] and [@]
as in admire, admit, advance, etc.

[@:] for the choice between [@] and [a:]
as in after, advantage, advance, etc.

There are more symbols in the extended alphabet but I still haven't found the time to display the full potential of the alphabet.
Paul V   Tuesday, January 13, 2004, 18:12 GMT
The Schwa or uh sound (.. and .)
have some interesting variations.
1. It can be a Standalone syllable (Ado, among, agreeable[..gri:..bul])
2. It can make a single consonant into a syllable.
by preceding it (girl, able, blossom, an, vixen, power)
by following it (banana[b..nan..], interesting[int..restiN],tomato [t..meitO])
3. It can make a vowel into a Dipthong by following it. (idea, Boa, Mona Kea)
It seems to be a general purpose minimal vowel sound, that you can add anywhere to make the pronuncition flow more rhythmically.

The only thing that it does not do is join 2 or more consonants together to make a closed in syllable. You'd have to use the short u sound [^]to do that.

It sounds almost the same, ".." and "^", but I suspose "^" is a little longer and more distinct.
I like the way that you use, a single Dot to indicate that the Schwa sound merges with the following consonant. Two dots indicate a Schwa sound following the consonant. Nice.
You could even use 3 dots to indicate a standalone Schwa syllable.
Regards, Paul V
Michal Ryszard Wojcik   Sunday, January 18, 2004, 16:44 GMT
Some American dictionaries use the same schwa symbol for both [..] and [^]. Then they cannot make this distinction:
product ['pro d^kt] or ['pro d..kt].

By the way, can anyone pronounce "product" in the two ways so that they are really different?
Jim   Sunday, January 18, 2004, 23:50 GMT
I think that I can pronounce "product" in those two ways so that they are different. It's not a big difference: [..] and [^] are similar: but it's there.
Juan   Monday, January 19, 2004, 00:27 GMT
Check this awsome site from the University of Iowa.


If anybody bothers to actually visit the site, how about taking a look at the English library ( and even the Spanish if you so wish). Interestingly enough, English does not have pure vowels like in Spanish. I recommend going into the MONOPHTHONGS and click on the CENTRAL option. Now, for me this is the most fascinating aspect of the English language. How the heck does a native speaker differentiate between this vowels. They almost all sound alike!! Specially the two vowels at the bottom. I was never aware that they were actually two different sounds, since I do most of my learning by listening. I was always they were the same and pronounce them accordingly. At least in Spanish the vowels or diphthongs are clearly distinct.