Why incomplete subscript/superscript alphabet ?

Philippe Verdy verdy_p at wanadoo.fr
Mon Oct 10 12:57:13 CDT 2016

2016-10-10 18:04 GMT+02:00 Hans Åberg <haberg-1 at telia.com>:

> > On 10 Oct 2016, at 15:24, Julian Bradfield <jcb+unicode at inf.ed.ac.uk>
> wrote:
> >
> > On 2016-10-10, Hans Åberg <haberg-1 at telia.com> wrote:
> >> I think that IPA might be designed for broad phonetic transcriptions
> >> [1], with a requirement to distinguish phonemes within each given
> >> language. For example, the English /l/ is thicker than the Swedish,
> >> but in IPA, there is only one symbol, as there is no phonemic
> >> distinction with each language. The alveolar click /!/ may be
> >> pronounced with or without the tongue hitting the floor of the
> >> mouth, but as there is not phonemic distinction within any given
> >> language, there is only one symbol [2].
> >
> > But the IPA has many diacritics exactly for this purpose.
> > The velarized English coda /l/ is usually described as [l̴]
> > with U+0334 COMBINING TILDE OVERLAY, or can be notated [lˠ]
> >
> > The alveolar click with percussive flap hasn't made it into the
> > standard IPA, but in ExtIPA it's [ǃ¡] (preferably kerned together).
> There is ‼ DOUBLE EXCLAMATION MARK U+203C which perhaps might be used.

I disagree, IPA does not use such confusive ligature that would be read as
a repeated click and not a single one. Reversing the second one (and
slighly kerning it, thow I don't know how, to avoid the confusion with
"!i", i.e. a click followed by a vowel, most proably writing them on top of
each other or slanted/italicized) is a valuable visual distinction for a
single distinctive phoneme.

But IPA also proposes something else when more precise distinctions are
needed for noting not just the linguistic phonemes but their precise
phonetic realisations (e.g. in papers speaking about regional speach
accents), such as combining the normal phonemic symbol with a
diacritic,usually placed below, such as the dental modifier U+032A that
looks like a small bridge or some arrowhead-like diacritics (U+032C caron
below or U+032D circumflex below) to indicate a more precise placement of
the tongue.

Clicks are also pronouncable by themselves in isolation without any vowel
(in fact it's much easiler to pronounce them without a vowel) but they may
easily be pitched (on a small range of about 6 or 7 musical tones) instead
of being vovalized. However I've not seen any discritics to also annote the

In Chinese vowels are annotated with distinctive tones (but some of them
variable, where clicks can hardly have a raising or lowering tone). The
pitch is easily realized by more or less opening the mouth or by slighly
closing lip or rounding them (giving an appearence of "vowel", though they
are not voiced through the mouth as they are usually "aspirated" there, but
only voiced within air expirated through nasal areas). All this looks like
technical possibilities of human voice, appropriate for phonetic analysis
but rarely for actual phonemes of languages as they are hard to be
distinguished in a group of people.

These distonctions are however easiler to recognize within the context of a
complete speach along with other surrounding phonemes (Chinese may be
realized on 6 or 7 musical pitch tones by any one, but in speach only 3 are
used and the other phonemic tones are combination of the 3 basic tones, and
the mapping from the 3 basic tone to musical pitch tones/frequencies is
highly variable between persons depending on age, sex, body weight, health,
muscular development, or handicap: the phonemic tones are subdivions of the
possibilities of all the possible realizations that a mixed group of people
will want to exchange with good mutual understanding).

In Unicode there are several sets of tone modifiers that are encoded as
spacing modifiers (and in Pinyin, they are frequently noted with standard
European digits but have no direct relation with the musical pitch tone or
even with the 3 basic pitches used to compose the phonemic tones). Chinese
(but also Vietnamese) may also use diacritics above (acute, grave,
circumflex, tilde...). Linguists needing internationlization use distinct
symbols written after the vocalic phoneme or just after a vowelless
consonnantal phoneme, or just after a neutral schwa for a neutral/unclear
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