Made a new site for typing foreign characters and IPA symbols

Tom   Tuesday, June 08, 2004, 17:50 GMT
Hello All,

I just finished making a new site for language learners -- basically a bunch of online editors (based on JavaScript and Unicode) which let you type foreign characters without a foreign keyboard.

The idea is that you can type accents, umlauts, and other characters by pressing buttons or intuitive keyboard shortcuts, and then copy & paste your text into a word processor, e-mail message, etc.

I assigned the shortcuts based on the relative frequency of letters in each language, so that the most frequently used letters can be typed as easily as possible.

My most advanced creation is an editor for typing IPA-based phonetic transcriptions of English words.

As the Antimoon Forum is full of language enthusiasts, I hope you will take a look and offer your comments. Here are the URLs:

The editors are best opened with Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher, but they should also work with IE 5.0 and Mozilla/Netscape 6.

I got the idea of making the editors from the Russian (Cyrillic) keyboard made by my friend Michal:

Have a great day,

mjd   Tuesday, June 08, 2004, 18:20 GMT
Very cool, Tom.
Emmanuel   Wednesday, June 09, 2004, 00:43 GMT
Yes, it is cool, mjd. Why does Tom want to see them unnecessarily. Why not here?
Jim   Wednesday, June 09, 2004, 02:43 GMT
Yes, cool it is and it'll be useful to us enthusiasts I'm sure. I've got to get going but more comments follow.
Paul M   Wednesday, June 09, 2004, 03:30 GMT
cool!!!!! Good work there Tom.
Jim   Wednesday, June 09, 2004, 04:23 GMT
I wonder whether you're planning a more full-blown version covering all the IPA (or at least those which are rendered correctly by presently available browsers). Perhaps that would be asking too much but there are some extras I'd be like to see.

The last two characters on the first line (after theta, eth and ezh) don't come out on this computer so maybe my wish-list has a couple of redundancies that I don't know about but here it is.

I can't seem to see the suprasegmental mark for long vowel (a colon is used in Antimoon's alphabet but the IPA symbol looks like two triangles not two dots). I guess this is one of the symbols that isn't displaying properly because you can't really do without in (in any dialect).

Another symbol I'd like added is the up-side-down script "a" representing the open/open-mid central vowel. The crossed "u" the rounded close central vowel. I know that you're probably going to reply along the lines that "more arcane symbols used in 'narrow' transcriptions are not included." However, it would be nice to be able to do my accent some justice.

Again I've got to get going and again there will be more comments to follow.
Jim   Wednesday, June 09, 2004, 06:33 GMT
I neglected to finish one of the sentences I posted above. It should have read "The barred 'u' the rounded close central vowel I'd like added too." (I think they call it "barred" rather than "crossed"). I suppose you could always just type a "u" and cross it using your word processor for that one though.

Anyway, I guess you'd be pretty right calling the inverted script "a" and the barred "u" arcane but, let's face it, most of the IPA is a bit arcane. When I was a kid I used an old Oxford Dictionary. This old book had a system based on English orthography rather than the IPA. It took me a while to adjust to the IPA.

What I'm saying is that whilst the inverted script "a" and the barred "u", I can admit, are somewhat arcane; I'd hardly agree that the (what seems like) inverted "v" (or is it a small capital lambda?), upsilon, ezh, eng, etc. are not.

Nor would I call a transcription using the inverted script "a" and the barred "u" by any means "narrow". What it would be is more accurate rather than narrower if you're talking about the Australian accent.

Now, of course, Tom's goal was "to provide a way to enter IPA-based phonemic transcriptions" but this is always bound to run into trouble. The trouble is unavoidable because the IPA, as it's name (International Phonetic Alphabet) implies, is a phonetic alphabet not a phonemic alphabet. What this means is that to base your phonemic transcriptions on it you've got to choose an accent.

Without my dear friends, the inverted script "a" and the barred "u", it's impossible to base a phonemic transcription on my own accent. I'm thus stuck with the inverted "v" and the plain old unbarred "u". This is not so happy a state of affairs.

Anyway, on to the rest of my wish-list. There are some other important missing symbols. There is no chi (for the unvoiced uvular fricative). How are we to transcribe "loch"? There is no inverted "w" (for the voiceless labial velar fricative). How are those who distinguish "witch" and "which" going to do so?

Also there is no inverted "r". If you want to use the IPA, why not use it correctly. In the IPA "r" is the trill version (as used in Spanish I believe), in English it's normally the approximate version that we use (represented by inverted "r").

Also, these may be useful: "ø", "œ" and small capital Y (but probably not worth loosing any sleep over). In fact what would be really useful is if you added some function for barring symbols, inverting symbols and making small capitals (you never know when you'll need inverted small capital "R"). Anyway, I don't mean to complain because I still think you've done a really good job. Any plans to do a Greek or an Icelandic alphabet?
Tom   Thursday, June 10, 2004, 00:49 GMT

Thanks for your feedback.

Right now I am trying to promote the editors on the Web (which is quite tedious and takes a lot of time) rather than extend their functionality, though if they are popular enough, I will consider making a separate editor with a full set of IPA characters.

The two characters which do not render correctly on your system are the primary and secondary stress mark. Which browser, OS, and font do you use?

Your assumption about the length mark is correct: for some reason IE doesn't display it correctly.

I agree that the IPA is quite arcane, but the symbols that are commonly used in English dictionaries are substantially less so.

I realize that the IPA is a phonetic alphabet, but for some reason lexicographers thought it was a good idea to re-use IPA symbols in phonemic transcriptions.

I'd like to challenge your statement that in order to use IPA symbols in phonemic transcriptions, we have to pick an accent. For me, each symbol used in phonemic transcriptions represents a number of phones. E.g. [o](phoneme) means [a:](phone) in American English and [o](phone) in British English. This notation allows us to dispense with two separate transcriptions for words like "hot", "pot", "bottom", "not", and thousands of others.

The fact that the same symbol represents a phone which is used in BrE is perhaps unfortunate -- a bit like saying that, from now on, the British flag will be the symbol of the English language. But that's what dictionaries use, and I'm not going to swim against the current.

As for your other remarks, I wouldn't exactly call the missing [x] and inverted w "important". The difference between [x] and [k] and between [w] and [inverted w] is not phonemic, therefore I decided to omit the two symbols.
The uninverted [r] is what dictionaries use. It represents a different concept (a phoneme) from the inverted r in the IPA (which represents a phone).

In short, you want a phonetic editor (for linguists), I made a phonemic one (for English learners and teachers).
Jim   Thursday, June 10, 2004, 08:08 GMT

Good luck with your promoting the editors. I wish you success. A souped-up full-IPA version would be really cool but I'd imagine it would be a huge task.

As a matter of fact, I couldn't tell you which browser, OS and font I use. I'm far from being what you might call a computer buff and this isn't even my computer.

I know where you're coming from, Tom. Yes, I'd have to admit that their use in dictionaries have made many of the arcane IPA symbols more familiar. More native English speakers and ESL/EFL students would be fimilair with the inverted "v" than with the inverted script "a" ... if they've ever opened a modern dictionary.

Of course, you realise that the IPA is a phonetic alphabet, I was more or less explaining things for those who might not know. "... for some reason lexicographers thought it was a good idea to re-use IPA symbols in phonemic transcriptions." ... and for the life of me I can't figure that reason out.

Then on the other hand, whilst
re-uses the IPA the following don't.

Actually having a look at the wild array of alternative systems employed by those last four I'm begining to appreciate the value of using the IPA. However, what would be nice is if someone could put together a decent phonemic alphabet ... is it just a dream? Well there is Pitman's ITA.

You challange my "statement that in order to use IPA symbols in phonemic transcriptions, we have to pick an accent. For me," you write "... each symbol used in phonemic transcriptions represents a number of phones." When I have to agree. No, we don't have to pick an accent: it's already been picked for us. Like it or lump it, it's inverted "v" for /^/ and it's "u" rather than barred "u" for /u:/.

Go with the flow ... perhaps that's a good idea. I suppose I'm just one of those who wants to swim against the current. It may well be futile so to do. I don't so much want a phonetic alphabet over a phonemic one (well, yes, I do, that'd be nice too but ...). What I want to do is reinvent the wheel. But what good's it about to do anyone if I start contriving my own version?

Anyway, I did notice that you've got good old epsilon (unrounded open-mid front vowel) in there. I wonder what kind of phoneme representation job epsilon could do that "e" couldn't do better. The Cambridge Online Dictionary uses "e" rather than epsilon.

Not that I'm suggesting that you ditch epsilon ... just, you know ... she's a little on the arcane side if you catch my drift.

As for chi and inverted "w" ... I think that whether the distinctions between [k] and [x] and between [w] and [W] (using SAMPA) are phonemic really depends on you accent. I make no phonemic distinction between [w] and [W] and there are so few chances to pronounce [x] but things are probably quite different from a Scottish perspective. Anyway ... no point loosing too much sleep over it. Many word processors have Greek symbols anyway for the despirate.

One other thing I didn't mention is the good old glottal stop but there's not need to include this because it doesn't count as a phoneme. But then on the other hand nor does flap "t" and the reason you've given for it's ommission is that "they are not rendered correctly by presently available browsers."

Anyway I'm just about to stop ranting and get going. Once again, good work, Tom, and good luck.
Jim   Thursday, June 10, 2004, 08:21 GMT
typo: "When I have to agree."
should be: "Well, I have to agree."

Ignore the "(well, yes, I do, that'd be nice too but ...)": it doesn't make sense in the sentence. I rearranged the sentence and neglected to throw this out.

The original sentence was:
"I don't so much want a phonetic alphabet (well, yes, I do, that'd be nice too but ...) as to reinvent the wheel."

The new version should have been:
"I don't so much want a phonetic alphabet over a phonemic one. What I want to do is reinvent the wheel."

I posted something in between. It made no sense.

typo: "... there's not need to include this ..."
should be: "... there's no need to include this ..."
Tom   Thursday, June 10, 2004, 10:42 GMT

The epsilon is used in some American sources instead of [e]. Iit represents the American version of the [e] phoneme.

The upside-down [w] is normally transcribed as [hw] in dictionaries. While I'm aware of its existence, I haven't seen a single dictionary that would use the upside-down w. Go figure.

As for "loch" you can just type "x", can't you?
Jim   Friday, June 11, 2004, 00:40 GMT
You're right about using "x" instead of chi. That would work fine. Also instead of the inverted "w" you could use a capiltal "W" (as is done in SAMPA).

I don't like the idea of using /hw/, I don't like it at all. What /hw/ looks like is a /h/ followed by a /w/. For some this is exactly how "wh" is pronounced but for others it's a whole different phoneme which corresponds to the phone written as an inverted "w" in the IPA. If only they used the upside down "w", then it could stand for [w], [W] or [hw] depending on you accent. Most of us merge /w/ and /W/ anyway. The Cambridge online dictionary doesn't bother with the distinction.

I understand that you're sticking with what the dictionaries use. This makes perfect sense. Your concern is with teachers and students of English. Students and teachers have got to make do with what we've got. What we've got is the subset of the IPA on your editor.

What I ought be doing is taking up my gripe with the dictionary writers. I'm sure you understand that my complaints are directed at them not you. Specifically, I should complain to the editors of the Macquarie Dictionary (an Australian one) who don't use sysmbols befitting our accent. It's a Macquarie Uni website on which I discovered that the inverted script "a" and barred "u" correspond to the vowels of Australian English. If the Americans can go use epsilon why can we use these?
Tom   Friday, June 11, 2004, 10:12 GMT
Just curious -- is the inverted script "a" a mirror image of the British [o] symbol?
Are you familiar with a site where I can listen to samples of the inverted script "a" and the barred "u"?
Paul   Friday, June 11, 2004, 14:21 GMT
Thanks Tom
I've been using the IPA editor with Unicode font and it works great.
My only quibble would be the lack of a letter for the alternate ch sound, used in Loch, Bach, chutzpah and orchid. But as you say X is perfectly acceptable.

Great work. Thanks for a great set of Language tools.

Regards, Paul V.
Tom   Saturday, June 12, 2004, 22:55 GMT
Is the proper IPA symbol for the consonant in 'loch' and 'Bach' any different from the letter "x"?