Is there a language that uses the International Phonetic Alphabet as their official writing system? Basically,

  1. Is there a language using [a less strict version of] IPA as their writing system?
  2. Is that language a natural or constructed language?
  3. How many people speak it?
  • English can be written using a subset of the IPA: the 26 letters of the basic Latin alphabet. Dec 5, 2016 at 20:29
  • 1
    The IPA letters do have somewhat specific defined values for use in narrow phonetic transcription, but no writing system that I know of follows the principles of narrow transcription. Dec 5, 2016 at 20:32
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    It would have to be a language without accents. Dec 5, 2016 at 21:36
  • @sumelic That doesn't count in any way
    – GamerGeek
    Jun 18, 2017 at 16:28
  • @LuísHenrique IPA uses diacritics
    – GamerGeek
    Jun 18, 2017 at 16:29

3 Answers 3


I don't know of any language that strictly meets these criteria, certainly not any major language, but there are some almost-but-not-quite cases:

  • Many African languages use the African reference alphabet, which is based on IPA (see jknappen's answer).
  • Ad-hoc orthographies created by linguists when describing a language.
  • The Journal of the IPA (then known as Le Maître Phonétique) used to be published using almost solely IPA (some proper nouns were written in standard orthography). Example:

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  • 3
    WOW! Talk of dogfooding. Any idea why Le Maître Phonétique stopped it? I googled a bit but didn't find anything.
    – vin
    Dec 6, 2016 at 14:01
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    @vin - since some English speakers pronounce some phonemes very differently from others, an IPA transliteration will necessarily be "wrong" for at least a subset of English speakers. It indeed surprises me that Le Maître Phonétique didn't realise it was a bad idea from starters; IPA is not meant to replace existing alphabets. Dec 7, 2016 at 8:57
  • @LuísHenrique, I think your comment is very relevant to the OP's question, and would make a good answer, taking the stance: "your question misses the point of the IPA"... Dec 13, 2016 at 21:54
  • @LuísHenrique I am able to write in broad transcription and have most people understand.
    – GamerGeek
    Jun 18, 2017 at 16:32

No language (to my knowledge) uses pure IPA as its writing system. But there were orthographies devised for many Western African languages that heavily borrow IPA characters (like ŋ, ə, ɛ, ɔ, or ʃ). However, they have added the usual Capital/Lowercase distinction to their writing system, in this way deviating from IPA.


The constructed language Toki Pona is written with IPA symbols. This is a phonemic transcription that doesn't account for allophonic variation, but still, the letters can always be read according to their IPA values. According to Wikipedia, the language has over 100 speakers. Here is an estimate of relative differences of the number of speakers of several conlangs, including Toki Pona, based on LinkedIn profiles.

I haven't found any natural language that is written with IPA without exceptions, but there are a few that come pretty close, e.g. Hawaiian.

  • That is quite intriguing, but both have a small phonemic library. Something with as many phonemes as english using IPA symbols could be interesting
    – GamerGeek
    Dec 16, 2016 at 2:18
  • @LingoLand I don't think such a language exists.
    – michau
    Dec 16, 2016 at 9:27

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