Phonetic transcription is an essential tool in enhancing overall communication. This type of transcription is even more useful now when people are sharing ideas and communicating on a global scale, such as in learning institutions, businesses, and more. 


So, what exactly are phonetic transcriptions, and how can they be applied in our everyday lives? This article seeks to explore phonetic transcriptions even further by highlighting crucial details, such as: 


  • What phonetic transcriptions are, with examples;
  • Instances where phonetic transcriptions can be used;
  • Limitations of phonetic transcriptions;
  • Comparing phonemic and phonetic transcriptions;
  • How to get phonetic transcriptions done. 

What are Phonetic Transcriptions?

To put it simply, phonetic transcription is the conversion of spoken words the way they are pronounced instead of how they are written. 


There are usually different types of transcription, from verbatim to intelligent verbatim transcriptions. Moreover, there are also other more specialized types like academic or legal transcriptions. 


You probably know what transcription is about — converting an audio or video to text format. This general transcription helps in numerous ways, including accessibility, record-keeping for future reference, etc. 


However, phonetic transcriptions play a different role, which we’ll look at shortly.


Unlike regular spelling, which can vary greatly between languages and dialects, phonetic transcription provides a universal and systematic approach to capturing the sounds of speech.


The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is the most widely used system for phonetic transcription. It includes symbols for consonants, vowels, and suprasegmental features such as stress and intonation. 

Examples of Phonetic Transcriptions

Phonetic transcriptions have symbols that include characters from the Latin alphabet, as well as special characters unique to the IPA. Here are some common categories of phonetic symbols:


  • Consonants: Symbols representing the sounds produced by obstructing or constricting airflow in the vocal tract, such as /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, and /s/.
  • Vowels: Symbols representing the sounds produced without significant constriction of airflow, including /i/, /e/, /a/, /o/, and /u/.
  • Suprasegmental features: Symbols for indicating stress, intonation, and other features that extend over multiple sounds, such as /ˈstres/ for “stress.”


Now, let’s look at some examples of phonetic transcriptions for English words:


  • Cat: /kæt/

In this transcription, the “c” represents the sound /k/, the “a” represents the short vowel sound /æ/, and the “t” represents the sound /t/.

  • Fish: /fɪʃ/

Here, the “f” represents /f/, the “i” represents /ɪ/ (a lax vowel), and the “sh” represents the consonant cluster /ʃ/.

  • Dog: /dɔg/

In this transcription, the “d” stands for /d/, the “o” represents /ɔ/ (a back vowel), and the “g” represents /g/.

  • Telephone: /ˈtɛl.əˌfoʊn/

This transcription includes suprasegmental features, with “ˈ” indicating primary stress on the first syllable and “ˌ” indicating secondary stress on the third syllable.

  • Happiness: /ˈhæp.i.nɪs/

In this example, you can see the complex transcription of a multisyllabic word, indicating the various vowel and consonant sounds and stress placement.

When Should You Use Phonetic Transcription? 

Phonetic transcriptions offer an excellent way to represent the spoken language in a more standardized manner. 


One of the main uses of phonetic transcriptions lies in linguistics. However, this type of transcription isn’t just limited to academia, as there are numerous other situations where it can become incredibly beneficial. 


Let’s take a look at some of the core uses of phonetic transcriptions in various aspects:


Linguistic research

Phonetic transcription is indispensable for linguistic research. Linguists use phonetic transcription to analyze the phonological features of languages. 


It helps them identify phonemic contrasts, study sound patterns, and uncover the subtle nuances that distinguish one dialect from another.

Language learning and teaching

There are two primary ways phonetic transcription of words can be helpful in learning institutions: for learning and teaching purposes. 


  • For improving pronunciation


For language learners, phonetic transcription is a valuable aid in improving pronunciation. 


It allows learners to visualize and practice the correct articulation of sounds, helping them speak more fluently and accurately.

  • Used in teaching phonetics


Those teaching a particular language often use phonetic transcription to teach phonetics, the study of speech sounds. 


Using phonetic transcriptions enables them to explain the articulation of sounds and helps students understand the phonological rules of a language.


Speech therapy

Speech therapists use phonetic transcription to assess and diagnose speech disorders. These professionals use phonetic transcriptions to help them identify the errors their clients make during a speech and will use this analysis to design a customized therapy plan to address the specific issues.

Translation and interpretation

During a translation or interpretation practice, professionals often prefer using phonetic transcriptions to maintain the fidelity of the original spoken content. 


Using this type of transcription helps them to ensure that the translated or interpreted text accurately reflects the pronunciation of the source language.

Language preservation

It is a no-brainer that, due to globalization, there are certain languages that are slowly becoming extinct or endangered. 


Fortunately, by using phonetic transcriptions, linguists and anthropologists use phonetic transcription to document endangered languages and oral traditions. 


It plays a crucial role in preserving the linguistic heritage of communities at risk of losing their languages.

Voice acting

One of the most important aspects of being a voice actor is being able to read and comprehend phonetic transcriptions. By following these transcriptions in their work, voice actors are able to replicate accents, dialects, and speech patterns accurately.

Business operations

Many businesses are now embracing phonetic transcriptions in various aspects of their operations. 


For instance, some companies integrate their branding efforts with phonetic transcriptions. 


Such companies seek to be more inclusive, especially to non-native speakers. This starts right from their brand names, enabling people from diverse backgrounds to be able to correctly pronounce their brand name.


Moreover, some businesses are considering using phonetic transcriptions during their sales calls, especially when dealing with international speakers. This enables these companies to review their sales pitches and ensure they conform to how their customers understand them better, enabling them to review their sales strategies. 

What are the Limitations of Phonetic Transcription?

Like any system, phonetic transcription has its limitations. As a rule of thumb, it would be prudent for those who want to use this transcription to fully understand its limitations to avoid inconveniences. 


Here are some of the main limitations you can get from using phonetic transcription: 


Variability in pronunciation

Pronunciation can vary significantly among individuals, regions, and dialects. While phonetic transcription provides a standardized representation, it may not account for all the subtle variations in pronunciation.


In some cases, phonetic symbols can be ambiguous, leading to potential misinterpretations. For example, the symbol /r/ represents the rhotic sound, but the exact pronunciation of /r/ can vary among dialects and accents. 


Furthermore, some symbols in the IPA can represent multiple sounds depending on context, making interpretation challenging.


Transcribing speech using the IPA can be time-consuming, particularly for longer passages or when dealing with languages with complex phonological systems. This limitation can make large-scale transcription projects challenging and resource-intensive.

Difficulty transcribing non-standard sounds

Phonetic transcription may struggle to represent non-standard or informal speech sounds, such as those found in everyday speech, slang, or rapid speech patterns. 


These variations may not have standardized symbols in the IPA, making it difficult to accurately transcribe them.

You need specialized training

Phonetic transcription is a specialized skill, and the symbols used may not be intuitive for individuals not trained in linguistics. This can make transcriptions inaccessible to the general public and limit their usefulness in educational contexts.

Transcriptions Made Easier With Krisp

Krisp is an AI transcription tool that makes it easy to access a textual version of your meeting conversations. For instance, if you want your discussions to be recorded in text format, Krisp can accurately and smoothly handle that for you. 


Krisp uses its AI meeting assistant to work in the background during your online or hybrid virtual meetings to get you a transcription of your conversations. Unlike most other tools, it is quite easy to get meeting transcriptions from Krisp:


  1. Download the Krisp app and sign up;
  2. Change the settings of your online meeting app and enable Krisp on your microphone and speaker;
  3. Join or start your meetings as usual, and Krisp works in the background to transcribe your meetings verbatim. 


One of the perks of using Krisp is that you don’t need to do any complex setup processes. In fact, you can get a Zoom or Teams meeting without recording.


Additionally, you can use Krisp’s AI note-taker to create accurate summaries of your transcript. You can easily take meeting notes without having to divide your attention during the meeting. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Is phonetic transcription necessary, and in what way can a teacher use it?

Phonetic transcription becomes necessary for linguistic teachers when teaching phonetics and improving pronunciation.

How is phonetic transcription different from regular spelling?

Regular spelling represents words using standard letters, while phonetic transcription uses a specialized set of symbols to precisely represent the actual sounds of speech. It aims to capture pronunciation variations, including subtle distinctions that may not be evident in regular spelling. 

Can phonetic transcription be applied to all languages?

Phonetic transcription can be applied to virtually all languages. However, the specific symbols and conventions used may vary depending on the language and its phonological characteristics. 

Is phonetic transcription only relevant for spoken language?

While phonetic transcription primarily focuses on representing spoken language sounds, it can also be applied to written language to help learners and linguists understand pronunciation. 

What is the difference between phonemic transcription and phonetic transcription?

Phonemic transcription represents the minimal set of distinctive speech sounds (phonemes) that can change the meaning of words in a language using abstract symbols enclosed in square brackets. Phonetic transcription captures the detailed pronunciation of speech sounds, including variations and allophonic differences, often relying on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).