Do You Know the Difference Phonetic and Phonemic Alphabets?


Well, this term I got many courses on Linguistic and I guess I finally learn the difference between phonemic and phonetic alphabet. You can always find the scientific explanation on internet but for those who do not want a detailed and complex explanation, I will try to tell the difference  briefly.

IPA, International Phonetic Alphabet, is the set of phones that mostly define the way we pronounce words. They are different from the regular alphabet because most of the times, our alphabets contain less sounds than we actually utter. Phonetic alphabet has more sounds. I’m sure you are confused many times about the weird signs that appear following the word that you are looking up. These are the phonetic signs. For example: /ˈdɪk.ʃən.ər.i/= dictionary. As you can see, there are different signs that we are not familiar with.

On the other hand, Phonemic Alphabet includes more and more sounds compared to Phonetic Alphabet because phonemes are little sounds that mostly appears in different dialects. That’s to say, phonemes are the different pronunciations of the same phones.

There is one major difference between these 2 alphabets. Mistakes related to Phonetic Alphabet create meaning difference but mistakes related to Phonemic Alphabet do not create any meaning difference. I will explain this with an example.

kin= /kɪn/ vs king= /kɪŋ/

Here, there is only one phone is different but if we use them interchangably, it means totally different things.

lull = [lʌɫ]

In this word, there is a different pronunciation of “L”. Try to pronounce this word aloud. You will see that you say the first and and the last “L” in a different way. This is phonemic because even if you say these two “L”s in the same way, it does not create any meaning difference.

As a last remark, the phonetic transcriptions are shown between /…/ but phonemic transcriptions are shown between […].

I hope my little knowledge on linguistics is helpful for you.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I’m not sure you’ve quite grasped the difference between “phonetic” and “phonemic”.

    A phonetic transcription can include various levels of detail, depending on the type of analysis that you are trying to make, or the details/features that you are interested in.

    A phonemic transcription is a type of phonetic transcription, but where the level of detail included is only that required to distinguish “meaningful contrasts”. Or to put it a slightly simpler way, if you imagine there is some minimal inventory of speech segments (“phonemes”) that a language/speaker has to “define” the phonetic content of words, then a phonemic transcription is a transcription that represents an utterance just in terms of which string of phonemes is present.

    Incidentally, I would avoid using the word “phones”: this is a term essentially used in speech synthesis, but which isn’t usually used in theoretical linguistics. (What I think you mean is “segment”.)


  2. Posted by Enes on January 29, 2012 at 17:50

    Sanırım farklı diller bilmenin de fonetik alfabesini öğrenmeye yardımı oluyor. Mesela Yunanca’daki “θ (tita)” harfi fonetikte geçiyor ve Yunanca’daki gibi peltek bir t sesi veriyor. Yunanca bildiğim için sözlükte fonetik alfabesinden okunuşuna baktığım zaman teleffuzda nasıl bir ses vermem gerektiğini anlıyorum. Yani farklı dillerin en azından alfabesini bile bilmek bir nebze yardımcı olabiliyor. 🙂


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