What is IPA?

The ability to communicate effectively about the phonology of a language, particularly when it is no longer spoken relies on having a standard notation for sounds. This standard notion is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which provides a symbol for each possible sound made by the vocal system, including the mouth, nose and throat (160 symbols). Each language uses a subset of these sounds, and so the IPA characters used by Late South-western British would be different to that used by modern English (or modern Cornish for that matter). IPA is used by anyone with an interest in linguistics, and was founded by a group of British and French linguists in 1886 that recognised the need for a uniform system across all languages. This group became the International Phonetic Association (IPA), a bibliography relating to their history is available on their website (International Phonetic Association Eds., n.d.). The IPA system is usually used for phonological rendering, including broad transcription (using slash characters) and narrow (using square brackets).

A notation is also required for the analysis of graph (written characters). This uses angle brackets “<” and “>” to delimit a written form. The written form of Brittonic has changed over time, through the adoption of non-Latin (i.e. Greek) characters and pairs to render sounds not found in Latin, and also where alternative characters have been substituted within a word to better represent a changing phonology. Each period in the language’s history might be considered to have a normalised (or typical) form.

There is no properly agreed standard for normalised forms in each period, but some rules of thumb exist and following the work of Jackson in particular conventions do exist. This project will need to set out conventional spellings for the Roman Era, Early and Middle forms. Thus, Late South-western British spellings may show case endings, lack of either lenition or syncope, Old Cornish may show eliminated case endings and syncope, and Middle Cornish would show forms familiar to present Cornish users with fully developed lenition, directly analogous to that modelled for Welsh. But in all cases, IPA may be used to clarify what each character ‘means’.

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