Everyone talks about wanting to play IPA Scrabble but not knowing how to do it. Well, I made a version with some ling-friends a while back, and we played it, and it was about as awesome as you’d expect (aka, very awesome). I considered trying to make it and market it to linguists, but I realized that a) this would take a lot of time that I do not have and b) Scrabble would probably sue me. So instead, I’ve decided to share the instructions on the Interwebz. Have fun, y’all.
I didn’t even make this lingllama. It’s from a year and a half ago.
You will need:
- Normal Scrabble set
- Cardboard (we ended up needing about 2 cracker boxes I think. Feel free to use fancier cardboard, or not.)
- Marker, scissors
- The frequency chart below
Trace a scrabble tile onto the cardboard; repeat until you have 104 squares (you’ll probably want to make a grid). Cut out squares, write IPA symbol and score on them according to chart below. Now you have segmentiles!
IPA Scrabble Frequency Chart (google spreadsheet)
Gameplay: basically like regular Scrabble, except that you may need a different way of resolving “legitimate word” arguments, since there’s far more dialect variation in pronunciation than there is in spelling. The way that we played was that if a variant was convincingly found in someone’s dialect then it was fine, but you could also decide to be more authoritarian if you had a convenient dictionary with IPA in it. It’s up to you to decide whether to penalize someone who mis-transcribes a word or just correct them.
Note: because the segmentiles only contain phonemes, there’s no way to indicate things like aspiration, syllabic sonorants, taps/flaps, etc. This would make it too complicated, because there are already 38 phonemes (vs. 26 letters). So just work around this and transcribe very broadly.
Note 2: The original frequency distribution that I used was based on American English. If you speak a different dialect, it will obviously not work quite as well for you. I added a few notes on how some dialects might want to alter the distributions/point values, but I don’t know all the dialects, so feel free to adapt to your speech community. Generally, if you have a merger between two phonemes on the segmentile list, you want to delete the one that doesn’t get realized and increase the number/decrease the score of the remaining one (e.g. caught-cot merger). If you have a split, then you have two options: if the frequency of the split items is already very low (e.g. Canadian raising), then you can just accept both variants for the same segmentile; if the frequency is highish, you can put in both variants, and decrease the number/increase the score of both.
This is fantastic practice for transcribing IPA in English; unfortunately, it won’t teach you the other sounds because English doesn’t have them. You’ll have to play it in !Xóö (for clicks) or Kaqchikel (for ejectives and implosives) or something like that. For another way to practise though, you can try IPA Bingo or one of these songs.
If anyone plays this, I’d love to know how it went!