computer readable phonetic alphabet

SAMPA (Speech Assessment Methods Phonetic Alphabet) is a machine-readable phonetic alphabet. It was originally developed under the ESPRIT project 1541, SAM (Speech Assessment Methods) in 1987-89 by an international group of phoneticians, and was applied in the first instance to the European Communities languages Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, and Italian (by 1989); later to Norwegian and Swedish (by 1992); and subsequently to Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish (1993). Under the BABEL project, proposals are being actively considered for extending it to Bulgarian, Estonian, Hungarian, Romanian. Under the aegis of COCOSDA it is hoped to extend it to cover many other languages (and in principle all languages). Unless and until ISO 10646/Unicode is implemented internationally, SAMPA and the proposed X-SAMPA (Extended SAMPA) constitute the best international collaborative basis for a standard machine-readable encoding of phonetic notation.

SAMPA basically consists of a mapping of symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet onto ASCII codes in the range 33..127, the 7-bit printable ASCII characters. Associated with the coding (mapping) are guidelines for the transcription of the languages to which SAMPA has been applied. Unlike other proposals for mapping the IPA onto ASCII, SAMPA is not one single author's scheme, but represents the outcome of collaboration and consultation among speech researchers in many different countries. The SAMPA transcription symbols have been developed by or in consultation with native speakers of every language to which they have been applied, but are standardized internationally.

A SAMPA transcription is designed to be uniquely parsable. As with the ordinary IPA, a string of SAMPA symbols does not require spaces between successive symbols.

SAMPA has been applied not only by the SAM partners collaborating on EUROM 1, but also in other speech research projects (e.g. BABEL, Onomastica) and by Oxford University Press.

In its basic form SAMPA was seen as catering essentially for segmental transcription, particularly of a traditional phonemic or near-phonemic kind. Prosodic notation was not adequately developed. This shortcoming has now been remedied by a proposed parallel system of prosodic notation, SAMPROSA. It is important that prosodic and segmental transcriptions be kept distinct from one another, on separate representational tiers (because certain symbols have different meanings in SAMPROSA from their meaning in SAMPA: e.g. H denotes a labial-palatal semivowel in SAMPA, but High tone in SAMPROSA).

A recent proposal for an extended version of the segmental alphabet, X-SAMPA, would extend the presently agreed conventions so as to make provision for every symbol on the Chart of the International Phonetic Association, including all diacritics. In principle this would make it possible to produce a machine-readable phonetic transcription for every known human language.

The present SAMPA recommendations (as devised for the basic six languages) are set out in the following table. All IPA symbols that coincide with lower-case letters of the Latin alphabet remain the same; all other symbols are recoded within the ASCII range 37..126. In this current WWW document the IPA symbols cannot be shown, but the columns indicate respectively a SAMPA symbol, its ASCII/ANSI number, the shape of the corresponding IPA symbol, and the symbol's meaning or use.

A	65	script a   	open back unrounded, Cardinal 5, Eng. start
{	123	æ ligature      near-open front unrounded, Eng. trap
6	54	turned a        open schwa, Ger. besser       
Q	81	turned script a open back rounded, Eng. lot   
E	69	epsilon         open-mid front unrounded, C3, Fr. même    
@	64	turned e        schwa, Eng. banana 
3	51	rev. epsilon    long mid central, Eng. nurse
I	73	small cap I	lax close front unrounded, Eng. kit
O	79	turned c        open-mid back rounded, Eng. thought  
2	50	ø       	close-mid front rounded, Fr. deux   
9	57	oe ligature     open-mid front rounded, Fr. neuf 
&	38	s.c. OE lig.    open front rounded
U	85	upsilon         lax close back rounded, Eng. foot
}	125	barred u        close central rounded, Swedish sju
V	86	turned v        open-mid back unrounded, Eng. strut
Y	89	small cap Y     lax [y], Ger. hübsch

B	66	beta            voiced bilabial fricative, Sp. cabo
C	67	ç		voiceless palatal fricative, Ger. ich
D	68	ð		voiced dental fricative, Eng. then
G	71	gamma           voiced velar fricative, Sp. fuego
L	76	turned y        palatal lateral, It. famiglia 
J	74	left-tail n     palatal nasal, Sp. año 
N	78	eng             velar nasal, Eng. thing  
R	82	inv. s.c. R     vd. uvular fric. or trill, Fr. roi
S	83	esh             voiceless palatoalveolar fricative, Eng. ship
T	84	theta           voiceless dental fricative, Eng. thin
H	72	turned h        labial-palatal semivowel, Fr. huit
Z	90	ezh (yogh)      vd. palatoalveolar fric., Eng. measure
?	63	dotless ?       glottal stop, Ger. Verein, also Danish stød

Length, stress and tone marks
:	58	colon           length mark    
"	34	vertical stroke primary stress 
%	37	low vert. str.  secondary stress             
`	96	(see note)      falling tone                 
'	39	(see note)      rising tone                  
Note: The SAMPA tone mark recommendations were based on the IPA as it was up to 1989-90. Since then, however, the IPA has changed its symbols for falling and rising tones. These SAMPA tone marks may now be considered obsolete, having in practice been superseded by the SAMPROSA proposals.

(shown with another symbol as an example)
=n	60	inferior stroke 	syllabic consonant, Eng. garden
O~	126	superior tilde  	nasalization, Fr. bon   

The phonemic notation of individual languages
These pages provide a brief outline of the phonemic distinctions in various languages: Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.
These pages provide extensions of the basic segmental SAMPA: SAMPROSA (prosodic), X-SAMPA (other symbols, mainly segmental).

UCL Phonetics and Linguistics home page, University College London home page.

For queries please contact John Wells by e-mail or at

Department of Phonetics and Linguistics, 
University College London, 
Gower Street, 
London WC1E 6BT.

Tel. +44 171 380 7175

Last revised 1996 08 14