Comparison with the IPA

The IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) is an extension of the Roman alphabet to cover the sounds of all the world's languages. The current version consists of 79 consonants and 28 vowels, for a total of 107 letters. The IPA also includes 32 diacritics, 9 suprasegmental marks, and 24 tone marks in two systems. That's a total of 172 signs, 173 counting the space.

Musa, on the other hand, includes only 22 vowels, 6 accents for tone, and 24 punctuation symbols, including the space. And it offers 134 consonants, including suffixes, for a total of almost 200 signs, a few more than the IPA.

This page is intended to convince you that Musa a much better alphabet for a written language than is the IPA.

(1) An IPA keyboard would require separate keys for all 173 signs, while a Musa keyboard can write them all with just 20 keys.

(2) The Musa letters are easily handwritten, while many of the IPA letters are not. In fact, the IPA letters are not even generally available on keyboards, or even in fonts - that's why X-SAMPA was invented.

(3) The 200 signs of Musa can also be used to write basic arithmetic expressions, replacing the digits 0123456789 and the symbols .+−±×÷%^°…=≠<>≤≥≈≡→()[ ]. Musa can even write music!

(4) The IPA has about half of the consonants that Musa has. What's missing? Well, letters for affricates, aspirates, breathy and murmured sounds, labial-velar sounds, voiceless laterals, and ejectives, to mention broad categories. Those are all reasonably common in the world's languages, and the diacritics used to compensate for their absence make IPA look hieroglyphic.

(5) On the other hand, Musa has fewer vowels. Musa doesn't consider central vowels to be distinguished from front rounded or back spread vowels, and the acoustical data suggests that analysis is correct. Musa doesn't make the fine distinctions that the IPA can make - has to make - between ɘ ɤ or ɜ ʌ, for example. Is there a language that distinguishes either of these pairs as phonemes? I'm skeptical.

Meanwhile, the IPA has trouble recording the most common cases, when a vowel phoneme covers several different allophones. Is Swedish long u a close central rounded ʉ or a near-close near-front ʏ, or even a normal y (contrasting with long y, which features unusual protruded lips)?

The IPA is simply too fussy with vowels.

(6) The IPA is sometimes described as partly featural. For example, the letters for retroflex sounds all feature a right-swinging tail: ʈ ɖ ɳ ɽ ʂ ʐ ɻ ɭ. The central nasals are all variants of n: ɳ ȵ ɲ ŋ. But Musa is completely featural: all the sounds articulated in the same position share the same bottom, and all the sounds articulated in the same manner share the same top.

(7) The IPA uses the Roman alphabet, which should be an advantage for those of us who use it for our own languages. However, this advantage is reduced or even reversed if the letters don't stand for the same sounds. For example, IPA j q x and many vowels don't stand for the same sounds they do in English, but at least there are some languages that spell those sounds that way.

But look at the letter c. It stands for a k or s sound in English, French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, and Italian. In German, Polish, Hungarian, Croatian, Albanian and even Chinese pinyin, it stands for ts. It has a few other values: th sh ch dj, even a click or a glottal stop. But in the IPA, it stands for the voiceless palatal plosive written ty in Hungarian. Who writes that with a c, the Dinka?

And while the IPA uses many turned letters to denote variants, like ɹ ʍ ə ɒ ɥ, the turned ɯ ʌ ɔ have nothing to do with the original versions.

(8) The IPA has diacritics to mark tone, but as with letters, their use doesn't match other romanizations. For example, the name (in standard Chinese) of chess grandmaster Dīng Lìrén 丁立人 is spelled tíŋ lîɻə̌n in IPA. Here are those two romanizations again, large enough for you to see the tone marks clearly:

Dīng Lìrén   tíŋ lîɻə̌n

(9) Despite the scope of the IPA, linguists working with indigenous languages of the Americas, Caucasus, India and Slavic and Semitic languages often use a different alphabet, the APA Americanist Phonetic Alphabet. Linguists working on Uralic languages often use the UPA Uralic Phonetic Alphabet. It's a shame there are three different phonetic alphabets.

Take a look at the image below. Which notation do you prefer?


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