(Speech Assessment Methods Phonetic Alphabet) is a machine-readable phonetic alphabet. It was originally developed under the ESPRIT project 1541, SAM (Speech Assessment Methods) in 1987-89 by an international group of phoneticians, and was applied in the first instance to the European Communities languages Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, and Italian (by 1989); later to Norwegian and Swedish (by 1992); and subsequently to Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish (1993). Under the BABEL project, it has now been extended to Bulgarian, Estonian, Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian (1996). Under the aegis of COCOSDA it is hoped to extend it to cover many other languages (and in principle all languages). On the initiative of the OrienTel project, Arabic, Hebrew, and Turkish have been added. Other recent additions: Cantonese, Croatian, Czech, Russian, Slovenian, Thai. Coming shortly: Japanese, Korean.
Where Unicode (ISO 10646) is not available or not appropriate, SAMPA and the proposed X-SAMPA (Extended SAMPA) constitute the best robust international collaborative basis for a standard machine-readable encoding of phonetic notation.
Note about Unicode: Recent version of the Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers are capable of handling WGL4, the subset of Unicode needed for the orthography of all the languages of Europe. Test yours by looking at this page, or download an up-to-date browser and a WGL4 font. Unicode SAMPA pages are now available with correct local orthography, for those with this capacity, for Bulgarian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, and Slovenian. See if your browser can cope with Unicode IPA symbols by looking at this special version of the English SAMPA page. For IPA in Unicode, see here.
SAMPA basically consists of a mapping of symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet onto ASCII codes in the range 33..127, the 7-bit printable ASCII characters. Associated with the coding (mapping) are guidelines for the transcription of the languages to which SAMPA has been applied. Unlike other proposals for mapping the IPA onto ASCII, SAMPA is not one single author's scheme, but represents the outcome of collaboration and consultation among speech researchers in many different countries. The SAMPA transcription symbols have been developed by or in consultation with native speakers of every language to which they have been applied, but are standardized internationally.
A SAMPA transcription is designed to be uniquely parsable. As with the ordinary IPA, a string of SAMPA symbols does not require spaces between successive symbols.
SAMPA has been applied not only by the SAM partners collaborating on EUROM 1, but also in other speech research projects (e.g. BABEL, Onomastica, OrienTel) and by Oxford University Press. It is included among the resources listed by the Linguistic Data Consortium.
In its basic form SAMPA was seen as catering essentially for segmental transcription, particularly of a traditional phonemic or near-phonemic kind. Prosodic notation was not adequately developed. This shortcoming has now been remedied by a proposed parallel system of prosodic notation, SAMPROSA. It is important that prosodic and segmental transcriptions be kept distinct from one another, on separate representational tiers (because certain symbols have different meanings in SAMPROSA from their meaning in SAMPA: e.g. H denotes a labial-palatal semivowel in SAMPA, but High tone in SAMPROSA).
A proposal for an extended version of the segmental alphabet, X-SAMPA, extends the basic agreed conventions so as to make provision for every symbol on the Chart of the International Phonetic Association, including all diacritics. In principle this makes it possible to produce a machine-readable phonetic transcription for every known human language.
The present SAMPA recommendations (as devised for the basic six languages) are set out in the following table. All IPA symbols that coincide with lower-case letters of the Latin alphabet remain the same; all other symbols are recoded within the ASCII range 37..126. In this current WWW document the IPA symbols cannot be shown, but the columns indicate respectively a SAMPA symbol, its ASCII/ANSI number decimal), the shape of the corresponding IPA symbol, the Unicode number (hex, decimal) for the IPA symbol, and the symbol's meaning or use.