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I started transcribing some phrases from TV and sometimes there are very short pauses between thoughts when longer phrases are pronounced, like the comma for instance. How can I represent the pauses in the phonetic transcription? I use the // but that is not the correct symbol. Is there a different symbol to represent short pauses in the IPA?

 *    .    *    *    .   .   *   .    .  *  
Dad, I'm still keep-ing your se-cret, o-kay?
ˈdæd ↗, // aɪm ˈstɪl ˈki pɪŋ jər ˈsi krət, // oʊˈkeɪ? ↗

Thank you.

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  • Look into the works of Gail Jefferson, the most eminent transcriptologist in conversational analysis.
    – jlawler
    Apr 17 at 20:58

2 Answers 2

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The extended-IPA symbol for short pause is (.), whereas medium pause is (..) and long pause is (...), but comma is almost certainly always a short pause. If you need a specific number of (or fraction of) seconds, then you can always resort to the numerical form as well to be even more precise—e.g., (0.3) for three-tenths of a second pause.

Conversely, even shorter pauses usually within phonemes of the same word, such as glottal stop, are standardized in IPA proper, but this is out of scope for your question other than to point out that parentheses notation of prosodic pauses is inappropriate within a word for microscopic pauses.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extensions_to_the_International_Phonetic_Alphabet#Prosodic_notation_and_indeterminate_sounds

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Pauses, which always come between intonational phrases (IPs), are indicated by double vertical bars within the IPA system:

For a short pause between IPs, a single vertical bar is used:

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Notice that there are no commas, full stops, question marks or ellipses used within the IPA system. Any symbols used in orthographic punctuation which are also used as diacritics in IPA have a completely different meaning within the IPA system. So, for example, an apostrophe would indicate an ejective consonant, a full stop (if used) would indicate a syllable boundary and so forth.

For a full IPA chart see here: International Phonetic Association Website. On the right, under the vowel quadrilateral, you will see the section SUPRASEGMENTALS. Notice, there, the single and double vertical bars used for pauses. Notice also the absence of any commas, full stops or ellipses to indicate pauses.

One last thing, for two Intonational Phrases with (virtually) no pause between them, use a single bar with a tie symbol (also under suprasegmentals on the chart) over the top:

For the Original Poster’s needs, then:

/ ˈdæd ‖ aɪm ˈstɪl ˈkipɪŋ jər ˈsikrət ‖ oʊˈkeɪ /


Note: The International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association have their own, non-IPA extensions to the IPA alphabet for the transcription of speech by people with speech disorders (or, more correctly, the transcription of disordered speech). A significant proportion of these symbols are actually symbols already used in the IPA system. Others, however, are not and are specifically useful for the transcription of disordered speech. The latter are not part of the IPA system, and these are not appropriate to use in a regular language-specific phonemic transcription system, such as required by the Original Poster here. Indeed, they will often have completely different meanings in such a context.

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  • Thank you. I appreciate your time. What do you think about the extended IPA symbols Andreas ZUERCHER mentioned above? Can those be used as well? May 3 at 22:18
  • @ZoltanKing That's what the footnote is about. They aren't really suitable for a transcription of normal (i.e. not disordered) speech within the IPA system. They have a different meaning within the IPA system What is the transcription for? May 3 at 22:38

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