I have often marvelled at the ingenuity displayed in some of the transcription systems devised by early phoneticians, such as those proposed by Bell and by Sweet, using completely original symbols to represent sounds, or Kenneth Pike's articulatory coding system that comes at the end of his book 'Phonetics', requiring a string of 80 symbols to represent the vowel [o]. Having long been out of touch with what is going on at the cutting edge of phonetics, I had rather assumed that people had decided to settle for what the IPA offers for transcription purposes, and be glad of the standardization of usage that has been achieved. I suppose I have also come to assume that the IPA framework more or less covers the range of discriminations that the average phonetician is capable of making. After all, there would be no point in having diacritics to indicate four different degrees of aspiration if nobody could use them reliably, or such a complex set of fine-grained vowel differences that nobody would be able to remember which sound corresponded to which symbol.
So it came as rather a surprise to me, browsing through the undergrowth of Wikipedia's many phonetics articles, to discover that people are still developing new ways of transcribing sounds. The first one I came across was mentioned in a recent edit to the article Phoneme, which noted that "Navlipi, a new universal script published in 2013, claims to deal with phonemes and phonemic idiosyncrasies in a practical, novel way." I had never heard of Navlipi before, so I followed it up. It turns out that there is now a Wikipedia article on Navlipi, a system which has been devised, published and patented by an Indian chemist called Prasanna Chandrasekhar. Reading the WP text, I was not impressed by this observation: "As more peculiar examples, we can cite [x] (uvular/velar fricative, the famous “throaty r“ of Parisian French and also much modern German, a sound coming from deep within the throat) ...". It seems the main selling point of Navlipi is that it is based on Roman letters and doesn’t use diacritics; apparently it makes it possible to show the Iinks between phonetic and phonemic representations in all the world's languages. There is a lot of information available on the Navlipi website here, including four (mixed) reviews. The claims made for this system are rather bold: “In addition to being a phonemic script, NAVLIPI is also a precise phonetic (phonic) script that very accurately transcribes the sounds and features found in all the world’s languages ... It is far more thorough, complete, distinct and practical than the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association (IPA)”. So far, though, my dwindling brain cells have not been able to figure out how it scores over IPA notation.
As the WP article points out, there is also a two-volume book setting out the full Navlipi system with a vast number of examples. I was rather intrigued to see that the book contains a Foreword written by Dr. Nicholas Ostler, a well-known specialist in endangered languages (whom I met many years ago when he was evaluating DTI-funded speech technology projects). Out of curiosity, I looked at the past contributions of Zinko101, who contributed the recent note drawing attention to Navlipi. The history shows that before he or she did this edit, their only other contribution to Wikipedia has been the full article on Navlipi. That, plus a sentence just added to the Wikipedia article on Dr. Nicholas Ostler noting that he wrote the Foreword to the Navlipi book. Sometimes I think WP gets a bit incestuous.
Another recent WP discovery for me was the vast IPA-with-everything-added system devised by Italian phonetician Luciano Canepari.. This system, modestly named CanIPA, can be read about here. It is claimed to contain 500 basic, 300 complementary and 200 supplementary symbols, though I haven't counted them. Inevitably, I wonder if anyone, apart possibly from the author himself, could ever learn to make use of such a complicated system. There is a huge amount of material, published and unpublished, on the impressive-looking website, but I have found it very tough to follow the rather idiosyncratic English and grasp what the point of CanIPA is. As Alex Rotatori has pointed out very cogently in his blog, there is something strange in Canepari’s work on the pronunciation of English, in which he constructs an accent which is a fusion of “neutral American” (GA) and “neutral British” (RP) (i.e. an accent which doesn’t exist), and then presents an account of the phonetics of this accent.
I think I’ll stick with IPA.