Following on from my comment in this question, I think it would be good to develop some guidelines around what orthographies to use in asking questions. I propose that we should allow linguistic material to be presented in its own orthography, whatever that may be, but it seems to me it should always (as far as possible) also be presented in IPA. Given that this is an English language website, English material could be exempt unless an IPA rendering is necessary to dealing with the question.

  • Let me reword this to see if I understood: You would like to make it "mandatory" (for lack of a better word) to add IPA for all examples in a question? Or only for not-so-popular languages?
    – Alenanno
    Nov 28, 2014 at 13:55
  • I think 'mandatory' is too strong, I'm thinking of it as just a guideline. I'm not sure what a 'popular' language is, but I think it would be useful wherever the orthography employs a script that is not based on the Latin alphabet. Eg if I posted a question on Inuit and included the example utterance in Inuit orthography, I should also present it in IPA. Nov 29, 2014 at 5:44
  • Yeah I agree mandatory is too strong but I couldn't find a better word to express the concept. :P I understand what you mean though. I'd like to wait and see if others want to weigh in and say their opinions too. :D
    – Alenanno
    Nov 29, 2014 at 9:44
  • Desirable? Suggested? Recommended? I just think it would be good if people are encouraged to do this as a matter of course. Nov 29, 2014 at 11:22
  • Let me re-ask the question I asked in the original post: Do you really want an IPA transcription of Ancient Greek? If so, which dialect? Homeric, Attic, and Koiné have quite different phonologies, and all are different from Modern Greek (which is often spelled the same). If you did get an IPA transcription (I could do one in Homeric, but not the others), what good would it do you?
    – jlawler
    Nov 29, 2014 at 18:48
  • So it's not possible to read Ancient Greek? That would be the use, that it would be possible to read it rather than just looking at a set of squiggles. Anyway, surely that question is about a specific variety, New Testament Greek? Nov 29, 2014 at 23:13
  • 1
    @GastonÜmlaut: Perhaps what you need is the How to Read Greek Kit, which I gave to my Freshman Etymology students.
    – jlawler
    Nov 30, 2014 at 4:22
  • Thanks @jlawler, I actually have learned the Greek alphabet before, but a few decades of no use and I forgot it. But, given your comments, I find it contradictory that your document teaches pronunciation, even giving IPA equivalents. Dec 1, 2014 at 20:47
  • It teaches original pronunciation; if you follow the rules, you'll be pronouncing close to Homer (though few English speakers will use aspirates for phi, theta, and chi).
    – jlawler
    Dec 1, 2014 at 21:53
  • Maybe I missed something, but where does it say that this is an "English language website"?
    – fdb
    Jan 7, 2015 at 0:31
  • @fdb, good point. I have not yet seen any questions in any language other than English, so I suppose I just made an assumption based on that. Is there any official guidance on this? Jan 7, 2015 at 2:04

4 Answers 4


IPA should be considered essential if the question is related to phonology in some way, but if it's about morphosyntax, semantics, NLP etc I see no reason to require or even encourage it. Whichever orthography would be normally used for the language can be used. That doesn't mean that you can't ask for it if you think it would help, but we don't need a rule requiring it for all questions.


Here are my recommendations based on standard practice in linguistics publications:

  1. Questions involving phonetics or phonology should ideally include IPA, with the following caveats:
    • Users asking questions come from a variety of backgrounds, so it may not be possible or necessary for them to provide an IPA transcription, depending on the nature of the question.
    • Some languages have orthographies with a straightforward mapping from phonemes to graphemes. Even in the phonological literature, these orthographies are sometimes used, with an accompanying note explaining where symbols depart from IPA usage. I think this would be fine in phonological questions (and others) here too.
  2. For questions not pertaining to phonetics/phonology, a Roman-based orthography is fine. If there are any potentially confusing symbols (especially in less familiar languages), these could be explained with their corresponding IPA symbol or phonetic description.
  3. Non-Roman orthographies are welcome, but they should always be accompanied by at least a transliteration into a Roman-based orthography, if not an IPA transcription.

I would like this conversation to go somewhere, so I hope it is okay if I answer even though my answer is basically identical to Jason Zentz's one. Every question asked I've seen so far has used Roman script (and English language) for the asking of the question. There really is no reason not to add a (however vaguely accurate) Roman or Roman-like transcription, except to show off how many scripts we bright linguists can read. So could we forget about IPA (too complicated, not everyone knows it and it's pretty useless for languages we don't even really know how to pronounce anymore) but kindly ask to use romanizations?


I think we don't need any guidelines about orthographies, and instead we should encourage people to make reasonable assumptions about what readers might know. If a reader does not know how to interpret [šιft] or [ʃɪft], then they will need to invest a bit of effort into figuring that out, if they care. The same would go for any formalized logical expression or syntactic representation. A question like "Is 在 a copula" is kind of disfunctional, from the standpoint of communicativeness, since only people who read Chinese (or know how to Google a Chinese character) can pronounce "在". But only people who know Chinese can answer the question in the first place. While it is nice to assume a universal audience, there are many questions that could be understood by only a small percentage of users here, and just as I tune out the NLP questions, I expect that they will tune out the Thai / Arabic / Russian questions, without being offended that they weren't "included".

That said, I think if the topic is English pronunciations, there should be a phonetic transcription, since almost nobody here speaks my dialect, and I get confused when people say things such as "like the vowel in 'super' or German 'über'" (apparently for some people those are the same vowel).

  • That would be Australians, right?
    – user9315
    Mar 12, 2015 at 14:27
  • But on topic: I know that I sometimes browse questions just to soak up random knowledge, and I'd like to know that we are talking about pistis and elpis even if I couldn't read it. I've seen some Russian questions that seemed extremely interesting to me, and not being able to read them made me sad. Of course, you might say that if I care that much, I could just learn Cyrillic.
    – user9315
    Mar 12, 2015 at 14:30

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