Being a Nepali language speaker, I can easily produce most sounds in Devanagari script as every letter has the same sound despite the place of use.

But there may be many sounds that are not pronounced (by people like me) and thus not have any corresponding grapheme in Devanagari.

Also, reading English has always been difficult as the English alphabets sometimes have different sound, like:

do and go have different sound for the vowel o.

Also, I have not learned any third writing script yet.

So, I would like to know if there is any writing script in the world that can represent all human sounds and is also phonemic?

The intention of asking the question is that:

I think a better writing script should be used to store characters (1-byte) instead of English alphabets, thus replace the current ASCII specification. This wont be a complete replacement for all scripts currently used in the world because there will be Unicode.
This can surely have many benefits like use of language other than English in programming, and true multi-lingual programming can be done.
There may arise question about difficulties in doing so. But all that computer understands is 0 and 1. So, some new specification should be developed instead of replacing computer architecture.

  • possible duplicate of Is there a language whose writing is 100% phonemic? Sep 12, 2015 at 15:18
  • 7
    No, because different languages have different phonemes that overlap in different ways. Sep 12, 2015 at 17:04
  • 1
    1) English has only 1 alphabet, so "English alphabets" is wrong. It's often used wrongly by Indians to indicate characters/letters. 2) I don't get what you intended to do. Why should 1-byte character set is better? We used Unicode for a long time without problem, and modern languages like Java, C# support variables names with any Unicode characters just well. And a 1-byte charset is just far from enough. Even for Vietnamese it's not enough to represent all characters and diacritics. The same for 2 Japanese Kana tables. Sep 16, 2015 at 9:13
  • I came here to read it for similar question so +1. Feb 11, 2019 at 14:46

5 Answers 5


The only writing system that comes close to what you describe is the IPA, or the now-deprecated APA. However, if you add the consideration of being "phonemic", then we would have to know exactly what you mean by that. IPA has the resources to write distinctions that are not phonemic (in some language), for instance aspiration which is not phonemic in English though it is in Nepali. IPA has a lot of resources, so you can represent rather minute phonetic detail using IPA symbols. Thus IPA can be used to represent any phoneme of any language – assuming you mean "phoneme" rather than "sound" (people can make lots of non-linguistic sounds for which there are no IPA symbols). But it can even represent allophonic differences, so it isn't strictly phonemic (since it is not particular to a single language, and "phoneme" is a property of a particular language).

  • isn't there any other script developed before IPA?
    – Barun
    Sep 12, 2015 at 17:23
  • 1
    @barun: Are you alluding to Bell's Visible Speech? Also Pitman's Phonographic Writing can be seen as a precursor of IPA, but both are merely of historic interest. Sep 12, 2015 at 18:56
  • @Barun, there have been a number of transcription schemes and historical stages to the IPA.
    – user6726
    Sep 13, 2015 at 16:30

There is another universal script, called Shwa. It can be seen here : www.shwa.org

Shwa has two huge advantages over IPA: - it's featural, so letterforms give you a good idea of the sound value, and - it only needs a 20-key keyboard, not the 160+-key keyboard you'd need for IPA. The IPA is adequate for linguistics, but it is not a candidate for a practical script.

On the other hand, Shwa only represents vowels "phonemically", that is, close enough to distinguish them from the other vowels in that language. It doesn't try to describe the exact vowel sound, since the vocal space is continuous. For consonants, on the other hand, Shwa can sometimes be too picky.

  • 2
    Link-only answers are discouraged here. Please modify your post to explain why shwa is relevant here.
    – prash
    Sep 13, 2015 at 11:50

Yes. It is called "International phonetic alphabet" (IPA).

  • It may represent the sounds but not used by general people in any part of the world.
    – Barun
    Sep 12, 2015 at 15:08
  • 3
    Sorry, but this is not the answer. The OP is mixing phones, script, and written language, hence the question. If you sincerely wanted to answer it (regardless of the duplicate), you may have needed telling the OP that phonemic inventory of every language is a subset of all possible human sounds, then tell about how a script works as a part of a certain written language, tell that the same Latin A may have totally different usage in different languages — and only then refer IPA. The way this answer is written, I would recommend converting it into a comment. Sep 12, 2015 at 15:26
  • @Barun how do you find a language that have ~300-500 phonemes like IPA? If no language has that much sound then no "natural" script can represent all those possible sounds Sep 16, 2015 at 8:57

No doubt IPA surpasses all existing writing systems as it not only provide specific symbols for phonemes and allophones on the segmental level, but it also provide varying degrees of stress patterns, linking and juncture (pause) features; I strongly suggest learners of a new language should practice its sound system through IPA. For those learning English could well benefit from IPA texts in phonetic transcription clips uploaded in YouTube.


None. If by all human sounds you mean all sounds which have been distinguished (acoustically) and given a grapheme, by linguists, that's probably IPA. There's more sounds than IPA graphemes (say, between every two IPA vowel graphemes you can try to produce the 'middle' or 50%50% one and then you have created/found a new sound, for which there is no direct grapheme).

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