Charis SIL, used in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary

Fonts for phonetic transcriptions: An overview

In 2014, I started compiling a list of fonts for typesetting phonetic transcriptions using symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). It is probably the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of such fonts, providing short, yet detailed reviews of the typefaces and the quality of their symbols – but it has two disadvantages: First, the reviews are written in German, which most people do not read. Second, the list – featuring more than 40 typefaces – has grown quite long and maybe even a bit confusing. If you are looking for a decent sans-serif typeface that includes phonetic symbols in its bold style, the long list will not be much help. That is why created a table of all fonts for phonetic transcriptions I am aware of (thanks to Friedrich Althausen, the designer of the Vollkorn typeface, for the suggestion!).
Charis SIL, used in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary by John C. Wells
For each font family, I have indicated whether the roman and italic styles in the regular and bold weights contain phonetic symbols (R: Regular Roman; I: Regular Italic; B: Bold Roman; BI: Bold Italic).¹ Whenever a typeface family includes more than these four styles, this is noted in the ‘More styles’ column (but you’ll have to look up the details for yourself). This is also true when a typeface has more than one bold weight (e.g., Semibold and Bold) or more than one italic style (e.g., ‘true’ italics and oblique). If you want to read the typeface reviews, click on their names (warning: German content ahead).

In each category,  means that a (more or less) complete set of phonetic symbols is available. Even if a font is marked that way, some symbols may be missing. (✓) means that a style or weight is present in the typeface, but that it does not contain phonetic symbols.  means that a style or weight is missing entirely from the typeface in question.² The last column contains a rating: This is not about whether a typeface is nice in general, but only refers to the completeness, drawing quality and functioning of the phonetic symbols. Please note that a five-star rating, used for the best typefaces in this area, does not imply that the typeface is absolutely complete and utterly flawless; minor deficiencies may remain. In any case, the rating is subjective, of course, so feel free to comment if your evaluation differs from mine. Also, please let me know if you know of any other typefaces with phonetic symbols.

AndikaSans SerifFree (OFL)(✓)(✓)(✓)★★★★☆
ArialSans SerifWindows★★★★☆
ArimoSans SerifFree (Apache)★★★☆☆
CalibriSans SerifWindows★★★★★
CardoSerifFree (OFL)(✓)(✓)★★☆☆☆
CharisSerifFree (OFL)★★★★★
ConsolasMono SerifWindows★★★★☆
Courier NewMono SerifWindows★★★☆☆
DejaVu SansSans SerifFree(✓)★★★★☆
DejaVu Sans MonoMono Sans SerifFree★★★☆☆
DejaVu SerifSerifFree★★★☆☆
DoulosSerifFree (OFL)★★★★★
Everson MonoMono Sans SerifPaid★★★☆☆
Fedra SerifSerifPaid(✓)(✓)(✓)(✓)★★★☆☆
FiraGOSans SerifFree (OFL)★★★★★
GentiumSerifFree (OFL)(✓)(✓)★★★★★
Italian TypewriterMono SerifPaid(✓)(✓)★★★★☆
JunicodeSerifFree (OFL)★★★★☆
Kozuka GothicSans SerifPaid(✓)(✓)★★★☆☆
Kozuka MinchoSerifPaid(✓)(✓)★★★☆☆
Linux BiolinumSans SerifFree (OFL)★★☆☆☆
Linux LibertineSerifFree (OFL)(✓)★★★☆☆
Lucida SansSans SerifWindows(✓)(✓)(✓)★★★★☆
Microsoft Sans SerifSans SerifWindows★★★★☆
Noto Sans (Display)Sans SerifFree (OFL)★★★★☆
Noto Serif (Display)SerifFree (OFL)★★★★☆
PragmataMono Sans SerifPaid(✓)(✓)(✓)★★☆☆☆
Segoe UISans SerifWindows★★★★★
STIX FontsSerifFree (OFL)★★★☆☆
Stone SansSans SerifPaid(✓)(✓)(✓)(✓)★★★★☆
Stone SerifSerifPaid(✓)(✓)(✓)(✓)★★★★☆
Source SansSans SerifFree (OFL)(✓)(✓)★★★☆☆
TahomaSans SerifWindows★★★★☆
Times New RomanSerifWindows★★★★☆
UndergroundSans SerifPaid★★★☆☆
VocesSans SerifFree (OFL)★★★☆☆
Yu GothicSans SerifWindows★★★☆☆


1   Just to be clear: ‘Regular’ refers to a weight with medium stroke width that is intended to be used as a base weight for setting continuous body text; it may be called ‘Book’, ‘Medium’ or something else in some cases. ‘Bold’ refers to a weight with a heavier stroke width that is intended for emphasising short stretches of text; it may be called ‘Semibold’ or something else in some cases. The ‘Italic’ column conflates type styles that bear traces of cursive handwriting (‘true’ italics) and styles that are mechanically slanted versions of upright styles (with or without manual corrections). 
2   Here is an example: Andika – the second typeface in the table – has phonetic symbols in the Regular Roman (hence in the third column). There are Regular Italic, Bold and Bold Italic styles, but they do not include phonetic symbols (hence (✓) in the fourth to sixth columns). Other than these four basic styles, Andika currently features no other styles or weights (hence in the seventh column). 

5 Gedanken zu „Fonts for phonetic transcriptions: An overview

  1. Diana Ovezea

    This is very helpful, thank you. Since I am planning to include phonetic symbols in my typeface with multiple styles and weights, this gives a good overview. I was already suspecting that there are not many type families with multiple styles for the phonetic symbols.

  2. Denis

    Cool review!

    Here are a couple of things that seem to have been overlooked:

    – Calibri, Cambria and Segoe don’t have the undertie ‿ U+203F (linking, symbol 509 in IPA Handbook) but it is required for French [lez‿ami].

    – Fira Sans has some issue with ɨ where it always decomposes it to i with some mispositioned combining stroke. That’ a automated ccmp feature bug.

    – Brill doesn’t remove the dot of ɨ when combined with a diacritic above, e.g. ɨ̄.

    – Both Brill and Fira Sans have the ligature tie clashing with ʃ in t͡ʃ.

    – In Calibri, Segoe UI and Andika (maybe even Gentium), it’s not clear which is which in ‖|ǁǀ (prosody mark or click letter).

    1. Christopher Beitragsautor

      Thank you so much, Denis! These are very helpful additions to my reviews.

      Of the bugs you mentioned, there is one that I cannot reproduce: In the version of Brill that I have installed, ɨ loses its dot when combined with a diacritic above (as it should). In Fira Sans, however, combining diacritics float above the tittle of ɨ instead of replacing it.

  3. Denis

    Interesting, I cannot reproduce the issue with ɨ in Brill today. I have a slightly different set up, I guess that was the issue.


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