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,[clarification needed (see talk page)] 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.


Unlike the IPA, which is usually transcribed with upright 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.

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.

ʔ denotes a voiced velar spirant.

ᴤ denotes a voiced laryngeal spirant.


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

For diphthongs, triphthongs and prosody, the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet uses several forms of the tie or double breve:[1][2]

  • The triple inverted breve or triple breve below indicates a triphthong
  • The double inverted breve, also known as the ligature tie, marks a diphthong
  • The double inverted breve below indicates a syllable boundary between vowels
  • The undertie is used for prosody
  • The inverted undertie is used for prosody.

Differences from IPA

A major difference is that IPA notation distinguishes between phonetic and phonemic transcription by enclosing the transcription between either brackets [aɪ pʰiː eɪ] or slashes /ai pi e/. UPA instead used italics for the former and half bold font for the latter.[3]

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]
Voiceless alveolar trill ʀ [r̥]
Uvular trill ρ [ʀ]


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 [ɹæn] 'ran'
English ʙo̭o̭d [b̥oːd] 'bode'
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'


  • Setälä, E. N. (1901). "Über transskription der finnisch-ugrischen sprachen". Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen (in German). Helsingfors, Leipzig (1): 15–52.
  • Sovijärvi, Antti; Peltola, Reino (1970). "Suomalais-ugrilainen tarkekirjoitus" (PDF). Helsingin yliopiston fonetiikan laitoksen julkaisuja (in Finnish). University of Helsinki (9). hdl:10224/4089.
  • Posti, Lauri; Itkonen, Terho (1973). "FU-transkription yksinkertaistaminen. Az FU-átírás egyszerüsítése. Zur Vereinfachung der FU-Transkription. On Simplifying of the FU-transcription". Castrenianumin toimitteita. University of Helsinki (7). ISBN 951-45-0282-5. ISSN 0355-0141.
  • Ruppel, Klaas; Aalto, Tero; Everson, Michael (2009). "L2/09-028: Proposal to encode additional characters for the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet" (PDF).


  1. ^ Uralic Phonetic Alphabet characters for the UCS, 2002-03-20.
  2. ^ Proposal to encode additional characters for the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet, Klaas Ruppel, Tero Aalto, Michael Everson, 2009-01-27.
  3. ^ Setälä, E. N. (1901). Über transskription der finnisch-ugrischen sprachen (in German). Helsingfors, Leipzig. p. 47.

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