Here are a few ways to type IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols on your Windows or Macintosh computer. (Unix users: consider LaTeX?)

Some of the characters in the IPA fonts described here are diacritics, which means that they are superimposed on top of the last character you typed. (Examples of common diacritics are those for dentalization, velarization, nasalization, and syllabic consonants.) First type the basic character, and then type the diacritic you want to put on that character.

I. Unicode fonts with IPA support

If your word-processing program supports Unicode fonts, you may wish to use a Unicode font for phonetic symbols. The advantage to using a Unicode font is that (in theory) it can be used on different computers or in different software applications without messing up the font encoding. The disadvantage is that it may require extra steps to input Unicode characters into your documents -- but see below on some relatively painless ways to do this.

Downloading free Unicode fonts with IPA support

Please note that once you have downloaded a font file, you may also have to install it for it to become available (unless this happens automatically). How you install a font depends on your operating system.

Typing Unicode IPA characters with your word processor

A. MS Word

B. OpenOffice

C. WordPerfect

II. Non-Unicode fonts: the SIL IPA93 font packages

If your word-processing program does not support Unicode -- it may be a few years old, or it may be WordPerfect -- you will need to use non-Unicode fonts to type IPA symbols. Before the spread of Unicode fonts, the SIL IPA(93) IPA fonts were commonly used among linguists.

An enormous disadvantage to using non-Unicode fonts is that the exact same font (not just any IPA font) must be installed on every computer that you plan to use for typing, displaying, or printing your phonetic symbols. Moreover, the Windows and Macintosh versions of the "same" non-Unicode phonetics font are often not mutually compatible, so documents can't be shared between Windows and Mac computers without retyping the phonetic symbols.

A small advantage to using non-Unicode fonts is that many commonly used characters are easy to remember and type without using special utilities or the "Insert Symbol" box. For example, in the SIL IPA93 fonts described below, typing ? gives you the glottal stop. All the lowercase letters correspond to themselves. The uppercase letters give you what you would expect in most cases: A converts to "script a", D to "eth", E to "epsilon", T to "theta", etc. But this convenience is usually not worth the font-compatibility problems that come with non-Unicode phonetics fonts.

Downloading the SIL IPA93 fonts (from SIL International)

  1. Set your Web browser to the SIL Encore IPA fonts page.

  2. As the web page explains, there are a number of fonts available to download. There are two "legacy" (=non-Unicode) font sets, called "SIL IPA Fonts 1.2" and "SIL IPA93 Fonts 2.0". You want IPA93, which is a more recent official version of the phonetic alphabet.

    Each font set contains three font "families" (a family includes regular, bold, and italic fonts). The three families are:

    • SIL Doulos (serif, similar to Times, like this)
    • SIL Sophia (sans-serif, similar to Arial/Helvetica, like this)
    • SIL Manuscript (monospace, similar to Courier/Prestige, like this)

  3. Click on the link that says "Download the SIL IPA fonts here." This takes you to a text page with instructions about how to install the fonts on a Windows or Macintosh system. From this text page, you can click on links that allow you to download the fonts you want. Make sure to get the "SIL IPA93 Fonts," not the "SIL IPA Fonts."

  4. Once you have downloaded the font files, you have to install them. How you do this depends on your operating system. Refer to the SIL font download page you have just been using for basic instructions.

Typing SIL IPA93 fonts with your word processor

Page last updated: January 2011