As noted elsewhere on this website, NAVLIPI conveys a combination of phonetic and phonemic information to the reader. For comparison, the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association (IPA, see https://www.internationalphoneticassociation.org/) is a purely phonetic alphabet and conveys NO phonemic information. Furthermore, even for a purely phonetic alphabet, the IPA alphabet (hereinafter, just “IPA”) also has certain other deficiencies (“IPA Defects”), well-recognized in the non-Western world.
For starters, it is extremely Eurocentric. It is very ad-hoc: It started with the Latin alphabet, and the mostly Western European members of the IPA in the 19th and early 20th centuries simply kept adding more letters, to describe more phones from different languages, as they needed them. So most of its backward and twisted and upside-down etc. Latin letters are difficult to recognize and non-intuitive for the lay person; and some look like they’re straight from outer-space!
The IPA also has a few errors. E.g. it does not recognize r-vowels but calls them “rhoticity”! And it still refuses to classify palatal stops (plosives) found in many languages as true stops, but rather insists on calling them affricates, an extremely Western European prejudice stemming from unfamiliarity with, and, sometimes, inability to articulate, such stops! The IPA alphabet is also counter-intuitive in many respects. In contrast, NAVLIPI attempts to be as intuitive as possible.
Some other issues relating to the IPA alphabet vs. a universal script or alphabet are:
1) Unrecognizability: Many letters (glyphs, symbols) are difficult for the layman, even one who has grown up with the Latin (Roman) or Greek scripts (alphabets), to recognize. Some glyphs appear to be straight from outer space! Examples of some unrecognizable IPA glyphs are given in the Fig. A3-1 at right.
2) Confusing nature of many of the letters, a property related to the unrecognizability. Many very similar glyphs are difficult to differentiate, and are highly confusing, even to the expert. Examples among these are the various inverted and rotated e’s and a’s, the inverted/rotated/hooked, etc. variants of r and R used to represent the various alveolar trills and flaps or uvular “r’s”, and the variants of n with inward/outward hooks, etc. used for the various nasals. They are also, incidentally, very difficult to transcribe cursively and to keyboard. Examples of IPA glyphs that are confusing, even for the layperson for whom the Latin script is native are given in Fig. A3-2 above.
3) Too many diacritics, leading to difficult manual transcription, even when not written in cursive. Manual transcription implies pen/pencil on paper. Difficulty also implies slowness. The diacritics, etc. are further compounded by too many differentiating symbols, exponents, etc. These features of the IPA are seen in the summary of IPA diacritics presented in Fig. A3-3 below. In particular, the diacritics and accents used for tones, as shown below, are especially confusing.
4) Poor keyboarding, made even more difficult by the large number of diacritics, exponents, etc. used, and the sheer number of independent glyphs (letters). Anyone having tried transcribing a passage in the IPA using all manner of software (including embedded fonts in word processors) will readily attest to this!
5) Lack of systematic organization, lack of pedagogical sense and inapplicability for everyday use: The IPA, in its various presentations (e.g. in the IPA summary chart at the beginning of its Handbook), actually ends up using, for its “consonants”, the ancient Indian system of classification: Grouping the “consonants” based on points of articulation, starting from the back (pharyngeal/-uvular/-velar) to the front (bilabial) of the oral apparatus, and then further differentiated as plosive, nasal, fricative, etc.. However, the alphabetic order retained is still that of the Latin (Roman) alphabet. As a result, it is not clear from the IPA Summary Table (“IPA Chart”) what is the exact order of the letters, and how the alphabet would be learned, e.g., by schoolchildren. Does it, for example, start with [p], the very first letter at the top left of the IPA chart, and end with [inverted-a] [ɒ], the last vowel shown in the chart? The assumption of course is that it is not meant for schoolchildren, only for highly educated phoneticists and linguists!
6) Incompleteness: the IPA treatment of vowels does not even consider horizontal jaw position. And only two lip positions (rounded and not rounded) are considered, these being shoehorned into the IPA vowel charts. Thus, the transcription of the Tamil sound and letter ழ is difficult in the IPA. In current transcription in the Latin alphabet, this is usually transcribed as zh; e.g. as in the word புகழ், pugazh, “fame”, or as in the word Tamil itself, which is more correctly transcribed in the Latin alphabet as Taamizh. As any Tamil speaker will tell you, this sound is articulated very much like the retroflex lateral (l-sound), which also exists as a separate letter and sound in Tamil (ள), except that the jaw is forward in its articulation, which gives it its unique sound and phonemic distinction.
7) Ad-hoc, “build-as-you-go” and Eurocentric nature: These properties are transparent in the IPA, in its very nature, and in its origins in the ad-hoc Latin (Roman) script. They are also evident in the way it has attempted to adapt to new languages with modifications of the same Latin letters. This has ultimately made the alphabet even more confusing and unwieldy. For example, some of the 2005 additions for African languages included new glyphs, as shown in the Fig. A3-4 at right below. This ad-hoc, build-as-you-go characteristic is due to the origins of the IPA in 19th-century Europe. An alphabet that started with a small modification of the Latin (Roman) alphabet to accommodate English, French and German, and then tried to gradually accommodate all the world’s languages, cannot equal, in its qualities, an alphabet or script designed ab initio, from first principles at the outset, with a knowledge of the world’s languages. And it is also unfair to the vast majority of the world’s languages and peoples, who are of non-European origin.
8) Sheer number of letters (glyphs), more than 172 and counting: The IPA’s individually distinct glyphs number more than 172. One reason for this is the absence of use of such glyph-saving devices as post-ops or other indicators of phonological class, as used by NAVLIPI.
9) Emphasis on “narrow transcription” rather than practical phonemics for everyday use. The IPA, in its “narrow transcription” version, is excellent for distinguishing the different pronunciation of individual speakers of the same dialect of the same language. This is no doubt a very useful property to have. However, it is of little use for practical, everyday phonemics and phonemic transcription.
10) Incorrect or nebulous classifications: As just some examples of these:
11) Poor amenability to cursive writing, as Fig. A3-5, at right, shows.
12) Finally, the most important deficiency of all: inability to account for the phonemic idiosyncrasies of the world’s languages:
This is perhaps the IPA’s most important deficiency, although, admittedly, it is also a deficiency of all scripts prior to Navlipi. This deficiency is reflected in the following examples: