The International Phonetic Association (IPA) is an organization that promotes the scientific study of phonetics and the various practical applications of that science. The IPA's major contribution to the academic community is the International Phonetic Alphabet--a notational standard for the phonetic representation of all languages. The initials IPA is used to refer to both the Association and the Alphabet. The Association also publishes the Journal of the International Phonetic Association.
In 1886, in Paris, a small group of language teachers formed an association to encourage the use of phonetic notation in schools to help children acquire realistic pronunciations of foreign languages and also to aid in teaching reading to young children. The group, led by Paul Passy called itself initially Dhi Fonètik Tîcerz' Asóciécon (the FTA). In January 1889, the name of the Association was changed to L'Association Phonétique des Professeurs de Langues Vivantes (AP), and, in 1897, to L'Association Phonétique Internationale (API)--in English, the International Phonetic Association (IPA).
The IPA's peak of membership and influence in education circles was around 1914, when there were 1751 members in 40 countries. World War I and its aftermath severely disrupted the Association's activities, and the Journal did not resume regular publication until 1922.
Development of the Alphabet
The group's initial aim was to create a set of phonetic symbols to which different articulations could apply, such that each language would have an alphabet particularly suited to described the sounds of the language. Eventually it was decided that a universal alphabet, with the same symbol being used for the same sound in different languages was the ideal, and development of the International Phonetic Alphabet progressed rapidly up to the turn of the 20th century. Since then, there have been several sets of changes to the Alphabet, with additions and deletions that the progress of the science of phonetics has indicated.
The IPA also has given examinations in phonetics since 1908, awarding Certificates of Proficiency in the phonetics of English, French, or German.