I know it has its origins in the International Phonetic Association, but the idea of a unique alphabet for each speech sound of the world's languages organized by place and manner must've had an origin coinciding with the invention of methods to quantify articulatory gestures, right?

2 Answers 2


You can read the wiki page here to get a synopsis and, most important, references to sources. The method of articulatory description is ancient (as in Vedic ancient), constituting the first branch of linguistics.

EDIT: I knew there was a book on the topic, I just forgot the reference. Look at Robert Albright (1958). The International Phonetic Alphabet: Its Background and Development, International Journal of American Linguistics (Vol. 24, No. 1, Part 3); Indiana University Research Center in Anthropology, Folklore, and Linguistics.


At least early on, the idea was to provide for each distinctive speech sound, i.e. phoneme. Being able to describe all the possible combinations of languages' articulatory gestures or movements seems to me to be more like the program in The Sound Pattern of English. And how do you use a device to quantify articulatory gestures (as distinguished from positions or movements), anyway? You mean electromyography? Not around yet when IPA started. So, no, I doubt you have the history right, here.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.