Indian languages have many similar sounds and Devanagari & IAST scripts uniquely distinguish these

For Example (not comprehensive)

IAST (Devanagari)

  • t (त) and (ट)
  • th (थ) and ṭh (ठ)
  • d (द) and (ड)
  • dh (ध) and ḍh (ढ)
  • (ङ), ñ (ञ), (ण) and n (न)
  • ś (श) and (ष)


  1. Does IPA distinguish like the way IAST does?

Or in other words — Is IPA fully compatible with IAST/Devanagari?

  1. Is there any "universal script" which encompasses all human sounds of all languages? Any "near-universal" contenders other than IPA?
  • 1
    Welcome to the site! Are you asking whether IPA uses the same symbols as IAST, whether it makes the same distinctions as IAST, or whether it uses the same means of distinguishing sounds? Mar 8, 2022 at 19:03
  • I'm asking if IPA can do all what IAST does – each Devanagari letter has a corresponding IAST letter
    – ShivCK
    Mar 8, 2022 at 20:05

2 Answers 2


Does IPA distinguish like the way IAST does?

Not quite

The purpose of the IAST is to represent writing, with distinct letters for each distinct symbol in Devanagari.

But the purpose of the IPA is to represent sound. This means it can represent all the distinct sounds of Sanskrit (or indeed most other languages), but has no way to represent something like the avagraha (ऽ), which represents the absence of an /a/ that would otherwise be expected. In the IPA, you would just write nothing there.

Is there any "universal script" which encompasses all human sounds of all languages? Any "near-universal" contenders other than IPA?

The IPA has a number of alternatives and extensions, such as Americanist or Uralicist notation. Most of these are designed with the intent of being able to represent the phonemes of all languages, sometimes with a bit of tweaking and adjustment.

  • Or, as with the Trager-Smith system, to be able to type English phonemically on a QWERTY keyboard.
    – jlawler
    Mar 8, 2022 at 21:48
  • Ok I understand IAST is like alternate spellings for Devanagari symbols and maps sounds not symbols (which may represent combined sounds in a language). But if we talk about sounds of Indian languages (say Hindi) how can I find their corresponding IPA symbols (or symbol groups for combined sounds like क्ष = क्+ष्+अ or ज = ज्+ञ्+अ) [Devanagari has 1-to-1 correspondence between symbols & sounds (or sound sequence) almost always, so I think it's ok to refer letters are sounds.]
    – ShivCK
    Mar 9, 2022 at 7:26

The question (including the comment) has some misconceptions or misstatements, regarding Devanagari. Almost every Devanagari letter has a correspondence to some IAST letters. The Devanagari letter त corresponds to IAST "ta" (a sequence); the Devanagari letter sequence त् corresponds to IAST "t"; the Devanagari letter क्ष corresponds to the triple sequence "kṣa". Also, if one counts "diacritics" as separate letters (e.g. Devanagari vowels, also nukta), then IAST "ṭa" is a three-letter sequence, "ḍha" is four letters, corresponding to one Devanagari letter.

A simple translation from IAST to IPA is possible, but not the reverse, for example there is no IAST convention for representing [æ, ɨ, ħ, χ, ɜ, f...]. Everything that can be represented in IAST maps to something in IPA, in that sense IPA is compatible with IAST and Devanagari.

No system "represents all human language sounds", but IPA and the Americanist systems can represent all known phonemic distinctions of human languages (UPA does not purport to cover all language phonemes, for example it has no pharyngeals). Micro-transcription with positional-variant transcriptions are possible in both IPA and the Americanist traditions, but IPA has more of them so it is better able to indicate finer distinctions (comparisons across languages and low-level phonetic distinctions).

  • I wasn't aware if diacritics are counted as separate sequences. Can you please provide corresponding IPAs of त् (t) and ट् (ṭ) ? Where can I find Indian language sounds to IPA mapping?
    – ShivCK
    Mar 9, 2022 at 7:16
  • t is t and ṭ is ʈ. There are hundreds of Indian languages, some of which (e.g. Sentinelese) are totally unknown.
    – user6726
    Mar 9, 2022 at 15:11

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