When a language is being transcribed to IPA, is the whispering included in the transcription? If so, how?

I saw the Wikipedia mention about not being anything for whispering, but I was wondering if this has ever been analysed in some paper or article.

  • 1
    What sort of analysis are you looking for? An explanation of why the IPA doesn't represent whispering? Or something else? May 7, 2012 at 17:31
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    @DanVelleman If it does or not (I suppose not but well), and if some paper treats about it. Then a link to it and some general overview of its content.
    – Alenanno
    May 7, 2012 at 17:34

3 Answers 3


My thinking on this is as follows. Whispering in regular languages isn't usually semantically or phonemically salient. It's almost always just a modulation of speech in compensation for the physical or social environment. For this reason it's not transcribed in phonetic notation, just like shouting is usually not transcribed.

Sometimes whispering can be phonetically salient, though. This is rarely if ever the case as part of a language's sound system, so there hasn't been any need to notate it much.

Now, whispering is definitely phonetically salient is in the study of speech disorders. Dysphonation of various types is found among those with disordered speech. This includes inappropriate whispered, creaky, faucalized, unvoiced, mouthed, etc. phonations, ingressive airstreams, etc. Fascinatingly, though the Extensions to the IPA[PDF] do not actually include a mechanism for indicating whispered phonation! Wikipedia says they do, but it's not clear to me that this is actually true.

The IPA does include a variety of diacritics for phonation types, but whisper is not included.

  • Thanks Mark. I was thinking that since whispering produces different sounds, you may think that the sound is indeed different, so you use a different transcription, but maybe it's not the case... :)
    – Alenanno
    May 8, 2012 at 17:31
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    Right. So in general, the IPA doesn't distinguish sounds unless the distinction is phonemic in some language. There are a few exceptions involving symbols added to the IPA early on (in particular, the distinction between [ɱ] and [m] isn't uncontroversially phonemic anywhere) but for a new symbol to be added, you need to show that there's some language in which the sound it represents is phonemically distinct from similar sounds. So if whispering isn't phonemic anywhere, then the IPA will not (and should not) include it. May 8, 2012 at 17:58
  • @DanVelleman +1 Good observation. :)
    – Alenanno
    Jun 30, 2012 at 12:59

While the IPA proper does not support transcribing whispering, the ExtIPA supposedly uses the under-dot (U+0323 COMBINING DOT BELOW) for "whispery phonation", if you believe Wikipedia. From this chart:

Whispery phonation

However, the linked ExtIPA 2002 chart does not list this diacritic.

The article "My Client Is Using Non-English Sounds! A Tutorial in Advanced Phonetic Transcription Part III: Prosody and Unattested Sounds" also discusses the extIPA (and does not list the diacritic). The paper also describes a non-IPA system (VoQS) for indicating phonation of stretches of speech, which seems to distinguish 3 types of whisper!

  • The article link is broken.
    – corvus_192
    Jan 1, 2018 at 23:56

I don't think so. Wikipedia, although not the most reliable source, says on its article on whispering:

There is no symbol in the IPA for whispered phonation, since it is not used phonemically in any language. However, a sub-dot under phonemically voiced segments is sometimes seen in the literature, as [ʃʊ̣ḍ] for whispered should.

However, one could write the sounds as they are spoken. For instance, you could could write [lɪŋgwɪstɪks]with the needed unvoiced symbols.

  • Yeah, I saw the wikipedia bit. I was wishing for something more. Let me include that in the question.
    – Alenanno
    May 7, 2012 at 15:38
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    This convention is formalised in the Extensions to the IPA for disordered speech, though.
    – jogloran
    May 7, 2012 at 23:56
  • @jogloran Actually, it doesn't seem to be in extIPA (at least in the 2002 revision). May 8, 2012 at 17:22
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    @Solarius - regarding your last sentence, unvoiced is not the same as whispered. One could use those symbols in a pinch, but one would need to make a note of this usage so as not to confuse the reader. May 8, 2012 at 17:23
  • By unvoiced, you mean voiceless? As in opposed to voiced?
    – Alenanno
    May 9, 2012 at 22:58

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