Kirshenbaum /ˈkɜːrʃənbɔːm/, sometimes called ASCII-IPA or erkIPA, is a system used to represent the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in ASCII. This way it allows typewriting IPA-symbols by regular keyboard. It was developed for Usenet, notably the newsgroups sci.lang and alt.usage.english. It is named after Evan Kirshenbaum, who led the collaboration that created it.

Comparison of Kirshenbaum with X-SAMPA

The system uses almost all lower-case letters to represent the directly corresponding IPA character, but unlike X-SAMPA, has the notable exception of the letter 'r'. Examples where the two systems have a different mapping between characters and sounds are:

alveolar trillrrr<trl>
alveolar approximantɹr\r
near-open front unrounded vowelæ{&
open back rounded vowelɒQA.
open-mid central unrounded vowelɜ3V"
primary stressˈ"'
secondary stressˌ%,

Kirshenbaum charts of consonants and vowels

This chart is based on information provided in the Kirshenbaum specification.[1][2] It may also be helpful to compare it to the SAMPA chart or X-SAMPA chart.

Consonant chart

Kirshenbaum chart of consonants (the paired signs are voiceless/voiced consonants)
Place of articulation Labial Coronal Dorsal Laryngeal Alveolar laterals
Bilabial Labio‐
Dental Alveolar Retro‐
Palatal Velar Uvular Labio‐
Manner of articulation
Nasals m M n[ n n. n^ N n" n<lbv>
Stops p b t[ d[ t d t. d. c J k g q G t<lbv> d<lbv> ?
Fricatives P B f v T D s z s. z. S Z C C<vcd> x Q X g" w<vls> w H H<vcd> h<?> s<lat> z<lat>
Approximants r<lbd> r[ r r. j j<vel> g" w h
Laterals l[ l l. l^ L
Trills b<trl> r<trl> r"
Flaps   *   *. *<lat>
Ejectives p` t[` t` c` k` q`
Implosives b` d` d` J` g` G`
Clicks p! t! c![3] c![3] k! l!

The IPA consonant chart, for comparison, uses many symbols that are less widely supported:

IPA: Pulmonic consonants
Place Labial Coronal Dorsal Laryngeal
Nasal m ɱ n ɳ̊ ɳ ɲ̊ ɲ ŋ̊ ŋ ɴ
Stop p b t d ʈ ɖ c ɟ k ɡ q ɢ ʡ ʔ
Sibilant fricative s z ʃ ʒ ʂ ʐ ɕ ʑ
Non-sibilant fricative ɸ β f v θ̼ ð̼ θ ð θ̠ ð̠ ɹ̠̊˔ ɹ̠˔ ɻ˔ ç ʝ x ɣ χ ʁ ħ ʕ h ɦ
Approximant ʋ̥ ʋ ɹ̥ ɹ ɻ̊ ɻ j ɰ̊ ɰ ʔ̞
Tap/Flap ⱱ̟ ɾ̼ ɾ̥ ɾ ɽ̊ ɽ ɢ̆ ʡ̆
Trill ʙ̥ ʙ r ɽ̊ɽ̊ ɽɽ ʀ̥ ʀ ʜ ʢ
Lateral fricative ɬ ɮ ɭ̊˔ ɭ˔ ʎ̝̊ ʎ̝ ʟ̝̊ ʟ̝
Lateral approximant l ɭ̊ ɭ ʎ̥ ʎ ʟ̥ ʟ ʟ̠
Lateral tap/flap ɺ ɭ̆ ʎ̆ ʟ̆
IPA: Non-pulmonic consonants
Ejectives Stop ʈʼ ʡʼ
Affricate t̪θʼ tsʼ t̠ʃʼ ʈʂʼ kxʼ qχʼ
Fricative ɸʼ θʼ ʃʼ ʂʼ ɕʼ χʼ
Lateral affricate tɬʼ cʎ̝̊ʼ kʟ̝̊ʼ
Lateral fricative ɬʼ
Clicks Tenuis/Voiced ʘ ʘ̬ ǀ ǀ̬ ǃ ǃ̬ ǃ˞ ǃ̬˞ ǂ ǂ̬ ʞ ◌ˀ
Nasal ʘ̃ ǀ̃ ǃ̃ ǃ̃˞ ǂ̃ ◌̃ˀ
Lateral ǁ ǁ̬
Lateral nasal ǁ̃
Implosive ɓ̥ ɓ ɗ̥ ɗ ᶑ̥ ʄ̊ ʄ ɠ̊ ɠ ʛ̥ ʛ

Vowel chart

Kirshenbaum simplified chart of vowels
(the paired signs are unrounded/rounded vowels; symbols in parentheses designate vowels that exist in some oral languages, but do not have IPA signs)
Front Central Back Rhotic
Close i y i" u" u- u
Near-close I I. (U-) U
Close-mid e Y @<umd> @. o- o R<umd>
Mid @ R
Open-mid E W V" O" V O
Near-open & &" (no symbols)
Open a. (a" A".) A A.

The IPA vowel chart, by comparison, uses many symbols that are less widely supported:

IPA: Vowels
Front Central Back

Paired vowels are: unrounded  rounded

Vowel modifiers and diacritics

Modifiers and diacritics follow the symbol they modify.

Modifier/diacritic Meaning
~ Nasalized
: Long
- Unrounded
. Rounded
" Centralized
<?> Murmured
<r> Rhoticized

Stress is indicated by ' for primary stress, and , for secondary stress, placed before the stressed syllable.


The Kirshenbaum started developing in August 1992 through a usenet group, after "being fed up with describing the sound of words by using other words".[4] It should be usable for both phonemic and narrow phonetic transcription.

  • It should be possible to represent all symbols and diacritics in the IPA.
  • The previous guideline notwithstanding, it is expected that (as in the past) most use will be in transcribing English, so where tradeoffs are necessary, decisions should be made in favor of ease of representation of phonemes which are common in English.
  • The representation should be readable.
  • It should be possible to mechanically translate from the representation to a character set which includes IPA. The reverse would also be nice.[5]

The developers decided to use the existing IPA alphabet, mapping each segment to a single keyboard character, and adding extra ASCII characters optionally for IPA diacritics.

An early (1993), different set in ASCII was derived from the pronunciation guide in Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, which uses straight letters to describe the sound.[6]


  1. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-04-19. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  2. "Hewlett Packard Labs".
  3. 1 2 Kirshembaum assigned c! to IPA ʗ, which he used indifferently for both alveolar ǃ and palatal ǂ clicks.
  4. "Usenet IPA/ASCII transcription". Archived from the original on 2011-09-26.
  5. Usenet IPA/ASCII transcription Archived 2016-04-19 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. "FAQ: Summary of IPA/ASCII transcription for English". Archived from the original on 2011-08-08.
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