Braille IPA (was "HELP!")

Robert Englebretson reng at
Tue Apr 13 14:14:13 UTC 2004

Dear John,

There is in fact a Braille version of the IPA, and a good source (for North
American Braille) where it is comprehensively listed is Rule XIX, Section 45
of "Code of Braille Textbook Formats and Techniques, 1977".  This is the
standard manual for Braille transcription of academic materials into U.S.
Braille, and this section of the manual specifically deals with linguistics
and lists all the IPA symbols that were current at that time.  BANA (the
Braille Authority of North America) is in the process of coming up with a
revision of the Braille IPA system, possibly bringing it more into line with
the British Braille system, but progress on that has been slow.  The
earliest source I know of for Braille IPA is:  "A Braille Notation of the
International Phonetic Alphabet", by W. Percy Merrick and W. Potthoff, Royal
National Institute for the Blind, London, 1932, revised 1945.  But I've
never actually gotten a chance to look at that one.

It is also crucial that the student know what the print IPA symbols look
like, so that she can communicate well with you and/or any readers that she
may be working with.  And there is an excellent Braille source for this too
(someone has already done it--no need to reinvent the wheel and resort to
glue and sand!).  The booklet is entitled "Phonetic-Phonemic Symbols in
Tactile Representation", and it gives a raised-line tactile drawing of each
IPA symbol, the corresponding Braille character(s), and a description of the
symbol (typographic description that is, not articulatory description).  IN
addition to  the IPA, it also illustrates most of the Americanist-based
phonetic symbols too.  This booklet is available from CTEVH (California
Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped).  I'm not sure what
the cost currently is, but probably less-than $10.  The person who you
should contact at CTEVH is Jane Corcoran, and her e-mail is
jmc400 at   Please tell her that I suggested you contact her, and
she'll know right away what booklet this is about.  I think this is an
especially nice source, since it can give the  student a feel for
(literally) the print IPA symbol, and words to describe them too.  It was
compiled by CTEVH in the late 80's, apparently in consultation with a blind
grad student at Stanford.

As far as doing transcription, the student can either do this on computer
(although most screen reader software has to be tweaked in order for it to
work well with IPA fonts), or by dictating the symbols to a human reader.

This topic occasionally comes up on the Linguist List too, and I've posted
responses there as well.  Feel free to contact me off list, or have the
student contact me, if I can be of further assistance.

--Robert Englebretson

    Dr. Robert Englebretson
    Dept. of Linguistics, MS23
    Rice University
    6100 Main St.
    Houston, TX 77005-1892
     (713) 348-4776
    e-mail: reng at

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