I was told by a friend that the order of tables in the IPA chart is not completely arbitrary, but has some motivation to it. In particular, that C tables come before the V table, as features of C production are more readily accessible for speakers, and easier to understand.

Unfortunately, my friend has no idea where she read this, so if this does ring a bell to you, and you have a clue where to look this up in a relevant source, I'd be happy if I could get a reference which I could check.

thanks a lot!

1 Answer 1


The placement of tables in the IPA chart reflects the way sounds are produced in the vocal tract. As the columns go from the lips to the throat, the rows go from occlusives to open vowels, reflecting the degrees of constriction between articulators. Until 1989, vowels and consonants were arranged in a single table, with the vowels placed under the palatal and velar columns, as [i, u] are syllabic versions of [j, w]. Even in the current IPA chart, [i, y] appear right below the palatal column, hinting at their place of articulation (Esling 2010: 697).

1912 chart: 1912 IPA chart

  • This doesn’t deal with what seems to be the crux of the question, though: why the consonant table comes before the vowel table and not vice versa. Apr 19, 2021 at 11:11
  • @JanusBahsJacquet It does. The order of the tables reflects the degrees of constriction as do the rows in the consonants table.
    – Nardog
    Apr 19, 2021 at 11:21
  • Ah, I misread the “from occlusive to open vowels” bit. You’re right, it does. Apr 19, 2021 at 11:23

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