So in English the word hi sounds like /haɪ/, but can be spelled "hi", "high", etc. So if you wanted to define the word "high" in English you would have to write two things:

  • high (the spelling/orthography)
  • /haɪ/ (the pronunciation)

Whereas let's say there is an English word yay (/jeɪ/) which only has one spelling. If English didn't have a written form, then you could just write it and include the pronunciation in one swoop:

  • /jeɪ/ (the spelling/orthography and the pronunciation in one)

Languages that get closer to this sort of system are ones such as some of the Native American romanizations such as the Blackfoot orthography which adopt some of the IPA symbols as well. The Cheyenne orthography is probably a better example. In Cheyenne, you get:

  • /tahpeno/
  • tȧhpeno

The IPA and the orthography are pretty much the same, just basically stylistic differences, no real structural differences. As opposed to English yay and /jeɪ/ or /haɪ/ and high are pretty different stylistically as well as structurally.

So my question is, if there is any system in Linguistics to add some metadata or something to the IPA pronunciation that says "this is how you spell it as well". Obviously you can just put two different versions of the word like the first example above (high and /haɪ/), but maybe there is an alternative syntax that is like {h}{aɪ=igh} sort of thing, where the spelling and the pronunciation are intermingled.

Wondering if anything like that exists. Essentially then you could have a pronunciation system that you provide extra metadata to in order to spell it out in the form you want, but you would only have to initially spell the sound of it (sort of thing).

  • Even if a language doesn't have a writing system, the phonemic representation doesn't automatically become the spelling or orthography; a pronunciation is nothing more than a pronunciation, it just means there is no orthographic form.
    – Nardog
    Oct 18, 2018 at 8:35

2 Answers 2


In addition to what Draconis said, it is not uncommon to embed a phonetic or phonemic transcription within an orthographic representation, as in "tom[eɪ]to, tom[ɑː]to", to highlight the relevant portion of a word.


The most common convention is to use angle brackets.

In linguistics, there are three different forms of a word (lexical item) that you'll commonly see.

In angle brackets, it's the orthographic/written form: ⟨high⟩.

In slashes, it's the phonological/underlying form (always a broad transcription): /hi:/.

In square brackets, it's the phonetic/surface form (usually a narrower transcription): [haj].

(Some people also use pipes, |like this|, to indicate a morphophonemic form, but that's much less common. Other sources use curly braces {like this} to mean a variety of different things but I'm less familiar with that notation.)

Which of these forms is relevant depends on the context. If you're discussing formants and frequencies, you'll want the surface form; if you're listing words for a language without an orthography, on the other hand, you'll want the underlying form. The choice of bracketing makes it clear exactly which one you're giving.

  • Wondering if you could demonstrate how you would write a complete definition of the word "high" then (just the spelling and pronunciation part). From what you're saying it seems like I would do this: ⟨high⟩ /hi:/ or ⟨high⟩ [haj], so you still need to write the two structures out. Not sure if that's what you're saying.
    – Lance
    Oct 18, 2018 at 7:41
  • 2
    I think /hi:/ is clearly an inappropriate transcription of ⟨high⟩ mixing up historical development with actual pronunciation. Both phonetic and phonemic transcription are completely synchronic and agnostic of historical development. Oct 18, 2018 at 9:34
  • I think /hi:/ is completely standard given the presumption that slash refers to underlying forms and not phoneme-level transcription of a pronunciation. Recall that slash is quite ambiguous. It is, of course, an open phonological question what the correct underlying form of "high" is.
    – user6726
    Oct 18, 2018 at 16:04
  • @jknappen True; I'm using it to illustrate how the underlying form doesn't necessarily have to look like the surface form. We could write the phoneme underlying [h] as /8/ if we liked; it's just for convenience that we use phonetic symbols for phonemes. In English, [aj] acts as a single phoneme, which was historically pronounced [i:].
    – Draconis
    Oct 18, 2018 at 16:05

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