Does there exist a phonetic english alphabet constructed from standard english letters plus diacritical marks?

For example, fine might be written fínė, such that í = and a letter with a dot is silent.

I envisage using such an alphabet to give pronunciation hints while preserving standard english spelling.

  • 1
    There are a lot of custom phonetic renderings using only the Latin alphabet (many dictionaries have an in-house one, for example), but they tend to use digraphs more than diacritics in my experience. And I don't think a serious attempt to undertake a phonetic alphabet would leave the silent letters in with dots. They can just be deleted. Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 18:44
  • @LukeSawczak I want to create program that gives pronunciation hints for standard english words by adding diacritical marks to the letters. Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 18:49
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    As in, to help those learning to read English? That'd be good. But you'll still end up giving them a list like this. If you don't think your list will be as long, I ask how people will know what the diacritic does to each of these: á, é, í, ó, ú, à, è, ì, ò, ù ... I suggest you study other beginner pronunciation guides and get a sense of how it's usually done, then adapt if necessary. They certainly could be more user-friendly. For example, how about blue vowels, green consonants, grey silent letters, etc? :) Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 19:09

2 Answers 2


What you're looking for is precisely what dictionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries did, before there was IPA and phonetic theories had developed. Its remnants are still seen in the transcription system of the American Heritage Dictionary.

The now-seldom-used system is described in detail in unabridged editions of Webster's Dictionary, such as this one: enter image description here enter image description here

However, it is debatable how practical such a system would be. It must prove a formidable task for anyone to remember what each combination of a letter and diacritic represents and when a letter without a diacritic is pronounced and when it is silent. Even then, many words would still require respelling, particularly words with silent letters like knit and honest.

My advice is to adopt a respelling system, be it IPA, AHD, Merriam-Webster, or an ad hoc system like "pruh-nun-see-AY-shun".

  • I hadn't realized "legislative" used to be pronounced that way…
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 23:52
  • @Draconis UK pronunciation (I guess still present in early Webster's). Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 0:34
  • What are you guys talking about? As you can see, "a᷵" ("a" with an up tack above) represents a free variation between /ə/ and /eɪ/ (or /eɪ/ subject to weakening). It is consistent with the pronunciations the latest version of Merriam-Webster gives.
    – Nardog
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 0:45
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    @Nardog Oh, that's interesting that they give the /ə/ variation now. In my English the list is inconsistent because I don't have the /ə/ version of "legislative" nor an /eɪ/ variation of any of the others (is there any dialect in which "senate, delicate" etc. have /eɪ/ ?). Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 12:53

Yes, I remember seeing some system of this type. I forget which system it was, but Wikipedia has some examples here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronunciation_respelling_for_English#Pronunciation_without_respelling Here’s another example from some web page: http://www.tysto.com/articles04/q1/20040226ara.shtml

There are many proposed systems for indicating the pronunciation of English words from the spelling, but very few are well known. You could probably just use a system of your own.

  • That's what everybody else does. None of them work, however. English spelling is simply a poor system, and hints don't make it any better, especially when there are too many hints already.
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 17:03

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