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Kirshenbaum /ˈkɜːrʃənbɔːm/, sometimes called ASCII-IPA or erkIPA, is a system used to represent the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in ASCII. This way it allows typewriting IPA-symbols by regular keyboard. It was developed for Usenet, notably the newsgroups sci.lang and alt.usage.english. It is named after Evan Kirshenbaum, who led the collaboration that created it. The eSpeak open source software speech synthesizer uses the Kirshenbaum scheme.

Comparison of Kirshenbaum with X-SAMPA[edit]

The system uses almost all lower-case letters to represent the directly corresponding IPA character, but unlike X-SAMPA, has the notable exception of the letter 'r'. Examples where the two systems have a different mapping between characters and sounds are:

Sound IPA X-SAMPA Kirshenbaum
alveolar trill r r r<trl>
alveolar approximant ɹ r\ r
near-open front unrounded vowel æ { &
open back rounded vowel ɒ Q A.
open-mid central unrounded vowel ɜ 3 V"
primary stress ˈ " '
secondary stress ˌ % ,

Kirshenbaum charts of consonants and vowels[edit]

This chart is based on information provided in the Kirshenbaum specification.[1][2] It may also be helpful to compare it to the SAMPA chart or X-SAMPA chart.

Consonant chart[edit]

Kirshenbaum chart of consonants (the paired signs are voiceless/voiced consonants)
Place of articulation Labial Coronal Dorsal Laryngeal Alveolar laterals
Bilabial Labio‐
Dental Alveolar Retro‐
Palatal Velar Uvular Labio‐
Manner of articulation
Nasals m M n[ n n. n^ N n" n<lbv>
Stops p b t[ d[ t d t. d. c J k g q G t<lbv> d<lbv> ?
Fricatives P B f v T D s z s. z. S Z C C<vcd> x Q X g" w<vls> w H H<vcd> h<?> s<lat> z<lat>
Approximants r<lbd> r[ r r. j j<vel> g" w h
Laterals l[ l l. l^ L
Trills b<trl> r<trl> r"
Flaps   *   *. *<lat>
Ejectives p` t[` t` c` k` q`
Implosives b` d` d` J` g` G`
Clicks p! t! c![Note 1] c![Note 1] k! l!

The IPA consonant chart, for comparison, uses many symbols that are less widely supported:

Vowel chart[edit]

Kirshenbaum simplified chart of vowels
(the paired signs are unrounded/rounded vowels; symbols in parentheses designate vowels that exist in some oral languages, but do not have IPA signs)
Front Central Back Rhotic
Close i y i" u" u- u
Near-close I I. (U-) U
Close-mid e Y @<umd> @. o- o R<umd>
Mid @ R
Open-mid E W V" O" V O
Near-open & &" (no symbols)
Open a a. (a" A".) A A.

The IPA vowel chart, by comparison, uses many symbols that are less widely supported:

Vowel modifiers and diacritics[edit]

Modifiers and diacritics follow the symbol they modify.

Modifier/diacritic Meaning
~ Nasalized
: Long
- Unrounded
. Rounded
" Centralized
<?> Murmured
<r> Rhoticized

Stress is indicated by ' for primary stress, and , for secondary stress, placed before the stressed syllable.


The Kirshenbaum system started developing in August 1992 through a usenet group,[3] after "being fed up with describing the sound of words by using other words".[4] It should be usable for both phonemic and narrow phonetic transcription.

  • It should be possible to represent all symbols and diacritics in the IPA.
  • The previous guideline notwithstanding, it is expected that (as in the past) most use will be in transcribing English, so where tradeoffs are necessary, decisions should be made in favor of ease of representation of phonemes which are common in English.
  • The representation should be readable.
  • It should be possible to mechanically translate from the representation to a character set which includes IPA. The reverse would also be nice.[1]

The developers decided to use the existing IPA alphabet, mapping each segment to a single keyboard character, and adding extra ASCII characters optionally for IPA diacritics.

An early (1993), different set in ASCII was derived from the pronunciation guide in Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, which uses straight letters to describe the sound.[5]

Kirshenbaum's document, Representing IPA phonetics in ASCII,[1] is commonly used as an example of an "IPA ASCII" system.[6]

The eSpeak software speech synthesizer uses the Kirshenbaum scheme to represent phonemes with ascii characters.[7]


IETF language tags have registered fonkirsh as a variant subtag identifying text as transcribed in this convention.[8]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kirshenbaum assigned ⟨c!⟩ to IPA ⟨ʗ⟩, which it used indifferently for both alveolar ⟨ǃ⟩ and palatal ⟨ǂ⟩ clicks.


  1. ^ a b c Kirshenbaum, Evan (2011-09-06). "Representing IPA phonetics in ASCII" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-04-19.
  2. ^ Kirshenbaum, Evan. "Hewlett Packard Labs". HP labs. Archived from the original on 2004-02-19. Retrieved 2005-09-20.
  3. ^ Moran, Steve; Cysouw, Michael (2018). The Unicode Cookbook for Linguistics. Language Science Press. p. 46. doi:10.5281/zenodo.1296780. ISBN 9783961100903. ISSN 2364-8899.
  4. ^ Kirshenbaum, Evan. "Usenet IPA/ASCII transcription". Archived from the original on 2011-09-26.
  5. ^ Kirshenbaum, Evan. "FAQ: Summary of IPA/ASCII transcription for English". Archived from the original on 2011-08-08.
  6. ^ Korpela, Jukka K. (28 June 2006). Unicode Explained. O'Reilly Media. p. 367. ISBN 9780596101213.
  7. ^ van Leussen, Jan-Wilem; Tromp, Maarten (26 July 2007), Latin to Speech, p. 6, CiteSeerX
  8. ^ "Language Subtag Registry". IANA. 2021-03-05. Retrieved 30 April 2021.

External links[edit]