Fox 1 Pamela Fox LING 301 Ania Lubowicz May 3, 2005

The Development of the Internet Quasi-Phonetic Alphabet (IQ-PA)

The rise of blogs, instant messaging, and text messaging has caused a new form of English spelling to evolve, developed mostly by the teenage population. This new spelling, littered with numbers and abbreviations, is sending shockwaves through the K-12 teaching population who are beginning to see the new spellings in their students’ papers and are worried their students may never learn proper spelling. But many linguists recognize their new lingo as a “linguistic revolution:” the English written language, notorious for its silent letters and misleading spellings, has been released from its confines and is rapidly becoming a truer reflection of English pronunciation. Though the “Generation Text”

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doesn’t consciously realize it, their new simpler spellings are similar to the phonetic transcriptions that linguists perform, and they’re unknowingly developing their own phonetic alphabet of symbols mixing traditional English spelling with completely new purely phonetic symbols.

In writing their text messages or blog entries, the youth writer generally has two goals: 1) to simplify: minimize the number of letters required to type the word, and 2) to stylize: convey a (seemingly youthful) personality. In accomplishing those goals, there’s also the requirement that the newly generated spelling shouldn’t have an ambiguous pronunciation; the reader should always know exactly what word has been written. If only the two goals existed, then a writer could just simplify by making up new arbitrarily shorter spellings for English words. The stylizing comes inherently from the seemingly rebellious new spelling. But the reader has two bodies of knowledge in their head: the standard spelling surface forms, learnt in K-12 education, and the underlying pronunciations of our language, learnt as a child. In order for the reader to understand, the writer must use one or both of those knowledge bases in crafting the new spelling. So in modifying the standard spellings, the writer has only one option left: relate it to the underlying pronunciations stored in readers’ minds. Their new

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spelling resembles English spelling but replaces silent, redundant, or excessive letters with phonetic symbols. Because many writers have been going through this process simultaneously in the past five years on the Internet, they’ve mostly converged to the same spelling shortcuts and without official documentation, effectively developed their own Internet Quasi-Phonetic Alphabet. Though the original IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) took an entire dedicated organization and language professors to create, Generation Text has unknowingly created their own nearly-as-powerful phonetic alphabet without realizing it.

Because of the plethora of sounds in languages, the IPA uses letters from many alphabets (Greek, Latin, etc) in order to represent each phonetic segment with its own symbol. But Generation Text only has the standard keyboard to create the IQ-PA phonemes: 26 (lowercase/uppercase) letters, 10 numbers, and punctuation symbols, and the English language is usually said to have at least 41 phonemes. An analysis of a sampling of internet spelling reveals that they have indeed succeeded in creating phonetic symbols from just the 26 letters with a few numbers thrown in. Admittedly, there are some phonemes (dʒ as in “judge,” ʒ as in “pleasure”) that the IQ-PA acknowledges no specific symbol

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for and instead relies on English spelling. The chart below compares the IPA to the IQ-PA, showing both the corresponding phonetic symbol from IQ-PA, if there is one, and the English spelling possibilities. With this mixed alphabet, either the phonetic symbol can be used to represent the sound, or the original spelling can be used. While the IQ-PA is lacking some phonetic symbols, as just discussed, it also adds some new phonetic symbols that encompass multiple phonetic segments in just one symbol. Oftentimes, these are commonly used phonetic segment combinations. The reasoning for the development of each of the IQ-PA symbols is the focus of the rest of this paper.

Key: [] = IPA {} = IQ-PA
Consonant al p hon em es
[p] [b] [t] [d] [tʃ] [dʒ] [k] [g] [f] [v] [θ] [ð] [s] [z] [ʃ] pen, tip but, web two, bet do, odd chair, nature, teach gin, joy, edge cat, kill, queen, thick go, get, beg fool, enough , leaf voice, have thing, with this, breathe see, city, pass zoo, rose she, sure, emotion, leash {p} {b} {t} {d} {ch }

Example Words


{k} {g} {f} {v} {th } {th } {s} {z} {sh }

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[ʒ] [h] [m] pleasure, beige ham man, ham

{h} {m}

Vow el p hone me s
[ɑː ] [iː ] [ɪ] [ɛ] [ɜː] [æ] [ɑː ] [ʌ] [ɒ] [ɔː] [ʊ] [uː ] father see city bed bird bad, cat arm run, enou gh not, wasp law, cau ght put {a} , { ah } {E} , { ee }, { eC e} , { i} {i} , {i CC } {e} , { eC C} {a} , { aC C} {a} {u} , {u CC } {o} , {o CC } {a} , { aC C} {u} , {u CC } {U}, { ue }, { uC e} , soon, through {oo }, { ew } {a} , { u} , {a CC }, about {uC C} {a} , { u} , {a CC }, winner {uC C}



Dip th ong p hone me s
[eɪ] [aɪ] [ɔɪ] [əʊ] [aʊ] [ɪə] [ɛə ] [ʊə] [ju ː] day my boy no now near, here hair, there tour pupil {A} , { ae }, {a Ce } {I} , { ie }, { iC e} {oi } {O} , { oe }, { oC e} {ow } -

Mul ti -se gm enta l p hone me s (no t r epresen ted by s ingl e p hon eme s in IP A)
[ks ] [ex] [si ] Tax , k ic ks Exc ep t See {x} {x} {c}

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[yu ː] [ʍaɪ ] [fʊ ə] [en ] [tuː] You why Fou r En joy to {u} {y} {4} {n} {2}

More interesting than the existence of the IQ-PA is the question of how the alphabet developed. Some of the sounds have multiple phonetic representations in the IQ-PA because they developed from the context of actual words, and the rules writers followed in creating the symbols differed depending on the environment. The first rule applied produces the most drastic shortening: the replacement of multi-segmental sounds by one IQ-PA symbol. At the beginning or as the sole component of a word, letters of the alphabet can be used to represent the sound they make when pronounced in the alphabet recitation. For example, {n} represents [ɛn] in #njoy# (“enjoy”), {y} represents [ʍaɪ] in #y# (“why”), and {u} represents [yuː] in #u# (“you”). In any position of a word (because their pronunciation is unambiguous), numbers can be used to represent the sound they make when pronounced. For example, {4} represents [fʊə] in #b4# (‘before”) and {2} represents [tuː] in #d2day# (“today”).

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The next major rule applied is the simplification of vowel and consonant clusters, often cluttered with redundant or silent letters in English spelling, to just one IQ-PA symbol for that sound. Consonant clusters often represent just one sound in English and are thus easily and obviously replaced with an IQ-PA symbol representing that sound. The IPA and IQ-PA symbols for consonants are very similar, because we have a good grasp on the most prevalent pronunciation of our consonants. To clarify more, occasionally multiple consonant letters are used to spell one consonantal sound but usually, a consonant letter (or some combinations, like “th”) only has one pronunciation, or its alternate pronunciations are understood as exceptions to the rule. There are a few sounds, like the alveopalatal fricatives, that the IQ-PA has no symbol for because they lack a dominant spelling representation, and thus those sounds must be represented by the original spelling. Examples of consonant cluster reductions are the change from “would” to {wud} and “pick” to {pik}. But a cluster like “dg” in “widget” representing the alveopalatal voiced fricative doesn’t have a correspnding IQ-PA symbol and thus cannot be simplified. Consonant cluster simplification is a more obvious process than vowel cluster simplification because the English language already has enough consonant letters to represent the many consonantal sounds. Compared to languages like Spanish, the English language has many vowel sounds

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(but the same amount of standard vowel letters – a, e, i, o, u), so it’s difficult to create symbols for each of them, but IQ-PA users have found a way. Tense vowels can be represented by appending an e immediately after the vowel, or after a single consonant after that vowel, like the {i_C_e} that represents [aɪ] in #fite# (“fight”), or the {oe} that represents [əʊ] in #noe# (“know”). This “append-e” symbol developed because of a common occurrence in English to pronounce tense vowels when followed by an e or a consonant plus e, as in the English words “tote,” “bite”, “mate”, “doe,” and “die.” It is one of those spelling patterns that are so frequent that it could be adapted into a phonetic representation. An alternate way to represent tense vowels is by simply capitalizing the vowel, like the {O} in #thO# (“though”) or the {A} in #dA# (“day”). Coincidentally, the capitalization of tense vowels is a convention used in some scientific papers as well. The best explanation for disparate groups converging on the same representation is that tense vowels tend to be longer than lax vowels (explaining why English K-12 teachers often refer to them as “long vowels”), and capitalizing a vowel seems like a lengthening. Now with so many phonetic symbols for tense vowels, lax vowels are represented by phonetic symbols that contrast to those. If the lax vowel is followed by a consonant in the original spelling, the lax vowel can be represented by duplicating the consonant, resulting in a {VCC} spelling.

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Again, this symbol developed from the English commonality to pronounce short vowels when followed by a double consonant cluster, as in “butter,” and “brimming.” Our acknowledgement of this pronunciation commonality is better seen when contrasting minimal English spelling pairs, like “matted” vs. “mated” and “rided” vs. “ridded.” And since the tense vowels are represented by adding an “e” or capitalizing, lax vowels that aren’t followed by a duplicatable consonant can often be represented by simply using the lowercase version of that vowel. There are a few dipthong vowels that have such common representations in English spelling that the common representation has become an IQ-PA symbol, like {oi} as in the [ɔɪ] of #boi# (“boy”) or the {ow} as in the the [aʊ ] of {hows} (“house”). There are also some sounds with multiple phonetic symbols (besides the general tense/lax symbols) in IQ-PA, like {oo} as in [uː] of #dood# (“dude”) and {ew} also representing [uː] of #kewl# (“cool”). So for some sounds, IQ-PA users can pick from up to 3 phonetic symbols. This multiplicity of symbols helps Generation Text writers accomplish their second goal of stylization without losing clarity. Many of the processes discussed above as pertaining to consonant cluster and vowel cluster simplification can also apply to individual consonants and vowels, and can be thought of as a rerepresentation of that vowel or consonant. For example, the plural ending –s is pronounced as [z] after

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voiced sounds, so many IQ-PA writers will write {z} at the end of such plural words, like {dogz}, even though the same number of letters is being used to spell the word. An example of vowel rerepresentation is the change of the vowel from “what” to {wut}. After simplifying the consonant cluster from “wh” to {w}, the writer then changes the “a” to more accurately reflect the sound to a {u}. In generating a new spelling, there are a few more rules to be followed to ensure clarity of mental pronunciation. If, while applying the above rules, the new form exactly resembles an already existing English spelling of another word, something has to change or the reader will confuse it for the word originally spelled that way. For example, a writer might want to spell “show” as *shoe*, using the {oe} symbol representing [əʊ]. However, “shoe” is already an English word (pronounced atypically due to historical changes), so the writer would instead need to pick {O} to represent that sound and spell it as {shO}. Another way that writers can ensure comprehension is to use either all IQ-PA phonetic symbols in spelling a word, or only original spelling. This way the reader doesn’t have to switch between their two knowledge bases, the underlying forms and the original spellings, in reading one word. For example, if a writer wanted to simplify “enough” into *enouf,* they should also do the

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vowel-cluster simplification into {enuf}. Of course, these rules are subconsciously understood and these mistakes are rarely seen in Internet text.

Besides varying the IQ-PA symbol chosen to represent a particular sound as discussed earlier, most Internet text stylization comes from actually changing first the underlying pronunciation of the target word, and then subsequently changing the spelling to fit that pronunciation change. The pronunciation change can vary by teen culture as each of those, in real world conversing, have developed dialectal differences. A blogger in the hip-hop teen culture spells “today” as {tadai} and “shit” as [shyte], because of that culture’s tendency to pronounce [eɪ] and [ɪ] as [aɪ] in those words in real conversation. That blogger also appends an {h} after vowels (like {mah} (“my”)) to emphasize their extreme lengthening, another characteristic of hip-hop speech. The {h}-appending to signify lengthening is an intuitive symbol for English speakers because of our onomatopoeic words “ah” and “oh,” known for their length. A different blogger from the asian anime culture spells “that” as {dat} and “the” as {da} because of that culture’s pronunciation tendencies. In this case, the pronunciation

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change makes their speech resemble child’s speech because it eliminates complex sounds (fricatives). A general stylization of most Generation Text writing, in blogs and messages, is the lack of capitalization
En glis h s pel lin g What are you doing today? I was going to go see the dolphins, except I’m low on money. I hope you enjoy the show! Why should I fight you? For all I know, you’re still in school The quality of that work isn’t high. ah hope u njoi da sho y shud i fite u? 4 all I noe, ur still in skool. Da kwalitE of dat work isn’t hi. IQ -PA sp elli ng wut r u doin 2dai? i wuz gonna go c da dolfinz, xcept im lo on $$

(except when used as an IQ-PA phonetic symbol). Since capitalization doesn’t reflect a property of speech, phonetic transcriptions rarely use them. The use of punctuation varies, but there is significantly less than in formal writing. Periods and commas are used when necessary to indicate pauses, and exclamation points and question marks are used to indicate an excited or questioning tone of voice. Phonetic transcriptions performed by linguists also never use capitalization and rarely punctuation. In the following examples from real Internet text, the multi-step process of generating the new spellings is described according to the rule followed.

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“what” {wat} {wut} “are” {r}

Consonant cluster simplification: Replace “wh” with {w} Vowel re-representation: Replace “a” with {u}

Alphabet letter representation: Replace whole word with {r}

“dolphins” Consonant cluster simplification: Replace “ph” with {f} {dolfins} {dolfinz} “fight” !fit! {fite} “school” {skool} “should” !shuld! {shud} “for” {4} “quality” {kwality} {kwalitE}

Consonant re-representation: Replace “s” with {z}

Consonant cluster simplification: Replace “ght” with {t} Vowel re-representation: Replace “i” with {i_e}

Consonant cluster simplification: Replace “ch” with {k}

Vowel cluster simplification: Replace “ou” with {u} Consonant cluster simplification: Replace “ld” with {d}

Number representation: Replace whole word with {4}

Consonant re-representation: Replace “qu” with {kw} Vowel re-representation: Replace “y” with {E}

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As the IQ-PA luckily hasn’t been officially documented by many people (perhaps only myself), it isn’t restricted to any confines right now and will most likely continue evolving and finding more precise representations for all of the many sounds of this crazy language we call English. We can then hope to see many of the bloggers of Generation Text matriculate as linguistics majors once realizing that they’ve been doing phonetic transcriptions all of their online life. Though the teachers may be frightened, this “linguistic revolution” should prove to be question-provoking: why do we make fun of bad spellers when our original spelling system is so counter-to-fact? We’re simply putting down those who can’t memorize arbitrary mappings. Would children or foreigners learn English better if we used IQ-PA instead of the original spellings? Considering that much of internet speech resembles children’s spelling “errors,” this seems plausible. The IQ-PA suggests many possibilities but… u’ll jus haf2 w8 n c wut happenz!

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Works Cited

Dunnewind, Stephanie. “’Ge neration hybrid

Tex t' : T eens' IM lingo

evo lving in to a

lang uage.” Seattle Times. 11 Mar 2005. Available WWW:

“The International Phonetic Alphabet.” Wikipedia. 1 May 2005. Search term: IPA. Available WWW:

Transl8tit. 1 May 2005. Available WWW:

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