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Uralic Phonetic Alphabet

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Title: Uralic Phonetic Alphabet  
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Uralic Phonetic Alphabet

The Uralic Phonetic Alphabet (UPA) or Finno-Ugric transcription system is a phonetic transcription or notational system used predominantly for the transcription and reconstruction of Uralic languages. It was first published in 1901 by Eemil Nestor Setälä, a Finnish linguist.

Unlike the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) notational standard which concentrates on accurately and uniquely transcribing the phonemes of a language, the UPA is also used to denote the functional categories of a language, as well as their phonetic quality. For this reason, it is not possible to automatically convert a UPA transcription into an IPA one.

The basic UPA characters are based on the Finnish alphabet where possible, with extensions taken from Cyrillic and Greek orthographies. Small-capital letters and some novel diacritics are also used.


  • General 1
  • Vowels 2
  • Consonants 3
  • Modifiers 4
  • Differences from IPA 5
  • Sample use of UPA 6
  • Literature 7
  • External links 8


Unlike the IPA, which is usually transcribed with Roman type characters, the UPA is usually transcribed with italic characters. Although many of its characters are also used in standard Latin, Greek, Cyrillic orthographies or the IPA, and are found in the corresponding Unicode blocks, many are not. These have been encoded in the Phonetic Extensions and Phonetic Extensions Supplement blocks. Font support for these extended characters is very rare; Code2000 and Fixedsys Excelsior are two fonts that do support them. A professional font containing them is Andron Mega; it supports UPA characters in Regular and Italics.


A vowel to the left of a dot is illabial (unrounded); to the right is labial (rounded).

Other vowels are denoted using diacritics; see the section below.

The UPA also uses three characters to denote a vowel of uncertain quality:

  • ɜ denotes a vowel of uncertain quality;
  • denotes a back vowel of uncertain quality;
  • ᴕ̈ denotes a front vowel of uncertain quality

If a distinction between close-mid vowels and open-mid vowels is needed, the IPA symbols for the open-mid basic front illabial and back labial vowels, ɛ and ɔ, can be used. However, in keeping with the principles of the UPA, the open-mid front labial and back illabial vowels are still transcribed with the addition of diacritics, as ɔ̈ and ɛ̮.


The following table describes the consonants of the UPA. Note that the UPA does not distinguish voiced fricatives from approximants, and does not contain many characters of the IPA such as [ɹ].

UPA consonants
  Stop Fricative Lateral Trill Nasal Click
Bilabial p ʙ b φ β ψ m p˿ b˿
Labiodental ʙ͔ f v ᴍ͔
Dental ϑ δ
Alveolar t d s z š ž ʟ l ʀ r ɴ n t˿ d˿
Dentipalatal (palatalised) ť ᴅ́ ď ś ᴢ́ ź š́ ž́ ʟ́ ĺ ʀ́ ŕ ɴ́ ń  
Prepalatal (palatalised or anterior) ɢ́ ǵ χ́ j ᴎ́ ŋ́
Velar k ɢ g χ γ ŋ k˿ g˿
Postvelar ɢ͔ χ͔ γ͔ ᴎ͔ ŋ͔
Uvular ρ

When there are two or more consonants in a column, the rightmost one is voiced; when there are three, the centre one is partially devoiced.


UPA modifier characters
Character Unicode Image Description Use
ä U+0308 - umlaut above Palatal (fully front) vowel
U+0323 dot below Palatal (fronted) variant of vowel
U+032E breve below Velar (fully back or backed) vowel or variant of vowel
ā U+0304 macron Long form of a vowel; also by duplication
U+0354 left arrowhead below Retracted form of a vowel or consonant
U+0355 right arrowhead below Advanced form of a vowel or consonant
U+032D circumflex below Raised variant of a vowel
U+032C caron below Lowered variant of a vowel
ă U+0306 breve Shorter or reduced vowel
U+032F inverted breve below Non-syllabic, glide or semi-vowel
ʀ U+0280 small capital Unvoiced or partially voiced version of voiced sound
superscripted character Very short sound
subscripted character Coarticulation due to surrounding sounds
U+1D1E Rotated (180°) or sideways (−90°) Reduced form of sound

Differences from IPA

A major difference is that IPA notation allows distinguishing between phonetic and phonemic transcription, by enclosing the transcription between either brackets [aɪ pʰiː eɪ] or slashes /ai pi e/. UPA has no corresponding standard, and context must be relied upon to distinguish the closeness of transcription.

For phonetic transcription, numerous small differences from IPA come into relevance:

Close-mid back rounded vowel [o]
Mid back rounded vowel o [o̞] or [ɔ̝]
Open-mid back rounded vowel or å̭  [ɔ]
Voiced dental fricative δ [ð]
Alveolar tap ð [ɾ]
Voiceless alveolar lateral approximant ʟ [l̥]
Velar lateral approximant л [ʟ]
Voiceless alveolar nasal ɴ [n̥]
Uvular nasal ŋ͔ [ɴ]

Sample use of UPA

This section contains some sample words from both Uralic languages and English (using Australian English) along with comparisons to the IPA transcription.

Sample UPA words
Language UPA IPA Meaning
English šᴉp [ʃɪp] 'ship'
English rän [ræn] or [ɹæn] 'ran'
English ʙo̭o̭d [b̥oːd] 'bored'
Moksha və̂ďän [vɤ̈dʲæn] 'I sow'
Udmurt miśkᴉ̑nᴉ̑ [misʲkɪ̈nɪ̈] 'to wash'
Forest Nenets ŋàrŋū̬"ᴲ [ŋɑˑrŋu̞ːʔə̥] 'nostril'
Hill Mari pᴞ·ń(ᴅ́ᴢ̌́ö̭ [ˈpʏnʲd̥͡ʑ̥ø] 'pine'
Skolt Sami pŭə̆ī̮ᵈt̄ėi [pŭə̆ɨːd̆tːəi] 'ermine'


External links

  • Uralic Phonetic Alphabet characters for the UCS
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