The December 2010 issue of JIPA (Journal of the International Phonetic Association) celebrates its own forty years of publication and the 125th anniversary of the publishing of a journal by the IPA. Prior to 1970, the journal was known successively as Dhi Fonètik Tîtcer, dhə fənetik tîtcər, ðə fonetik tîtcər, lə mɛːtr fɔnetik and, for the seventy-five years from 1895, lə mɛːtrə fɔnetik.
To celebrate this anniversary, the current issue includes a complete scanned reproduction, with original cover pages and pagination, of the 1949 booklet Principles of the IPA. This booklet comprised (i) a theoretical introduction explaining the association’s alphabet and the principles for its use, and (ii) exemplification by phonetically transcribed texts in some fifty different languages. It is now accompanied by a short introduction written by Mike MacMahon, the IPA’s historian and archivist.
MacMahon mentions two misprints in the 1949 text, commenting that their appearance is not surprising “given the complexity of setting phonetic texts in a pre-computer age”. One is a missing diacritic. The other is the ‘problematic’ placing of a raising diacritic next to [u] (thus u˔) in the Afrikaans specimen. (Since cardinal u is by definition as close/high as is possible without crossing the vowel limit line into friction, it can hardly be raised further.)
What makes the latter more mysterious is that the same problematic combination is to be found in the specimens of Tswana and of Scottish Enɡlish — which MacMahon does not mention. Yet we know that Daniel Jones, the editor of the 1949 booklet, was careful to the point of obsessiveness about the exact typographical form of the phonetic symbols he used.
There are other misprints. In the specimen of Finnish we find riːsiu for riːsui, in that of “Roumanian” dz for dʒ, in the Welsh emlaen for əmlaen. There are doubtless others. Among factual deficits, the Japanese specimen lacks all mention of pitch accent.
Although it is not a misprint, it is shocking to find that as recently as half a century ago the name of the language Xhosa is supplemented by the now grossly offensive gloss “(Kaffir)”.
The English (“one variety of Southern British”) text of The north wind and the sun is transcribed, for illustrative purposes, in three different forms, one “broad”, one “slightly narrowed” and the third “still narrower”. This third transcription, reproduced below, contains two striking inconsistencies. One of the narrowings involves the explicit symbolization of schwa as opener (ɐ) in final position than elsewhere (ə). But if stronger is ˈstrɒŋɡɐ in the first line, why is it ˈstrɒŋɡə in the fourth? If that is a subtle observation of the effect of a close-knit following than, why, given ˈstrɒŋɡɐ and ˈtrævlɐ, is other in final position not ˈʌðɐ (line 4)? And why is the MOUTH vowel written aɷ in əˈraɷnd (line 6) but au in ˈaut (line 7)? Like Homer, DJ evidently sometimes nodded.