Standard Alphabet by Lepsius

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The Standard Alphabet by Lepsius is an alphabet developed by Karl Richard Lepsius to write African languages. Published 1855 and in a revised edition (with many more languages added) in 1863, it was comprehensive but it was not used much as it contains a lot of diacritic marks and therefore was difficult to read, write and typeset at that time.



Vowel length is indicated by a macron (ā) or a breve (ă) for long and short vowels, respectively. Open vowels are marked by a line under the letter (), while a dot below the letter makes it a close vowel (). Central vowels are indicated by an ogonek-like hook below (į). Rounded front vowels, especially [ø] and [y] are written with a umlaut (ö and ü), either on top or below, when the space above the letter is needed for vowel length marks (as in ṳ̄ or ṳ̆). As in the International Phonetic Alphabet, nasal vowels get a tilde (ã). A small circle below a letter is used to mark both the schwa () and syllabic consonants ( or , for instance). Diphthongs do not receive any special marking, they are simply juxtaposed (au).


To mark aspiration and affricates, the corresponding letters are simply written next to each other, thus kh in Lepsius' Standard Alphabet would be [kʰ] in IPA and would be [t͡ʃ]. For palatalization, the character ʹ is used, so is [pʲ] in IPA. Ejective consonants are sometimes written as double letters, although this could be mixed up with long consonants.

The symbols for the clicks were devised by Lepsius in 1855 and have since been used in Southern Africa. The IPA had different symbols for four of the click phonemes, but after a proposal by Köhler et al. adopted Lepsius' version in 1989.


Tone in tonal languages like Chinese or some African languages is marked with accent-like characters written to the right of the corresponding syllable. The tone system employed in Lepsius' 1863 version is as follows (using the yin values of the Chinese tones for reference):

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