The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was initially created in 1888 by the Association Phonétique Internationale (International Phonetic Association) in France. It was designed to represent all the distinct sounds of all known spoken languages (excluding sounds which are a result of, for example, a cleft palate, and do not normally occur in human speech).

The IPA assigns one symbol to each speech sound. The symbols are used consistently across languages, and do not reflect any under- or over-representation which might be present in the orthography of any given language. That is, even if a language uses two letters to represent a single sound in different contexts, the IPA will represent it using a single symbol. The characters of the IPA are usually presented in a chart which is ordered by manner and place of articulation.

The 107 symbols used for writing the IPA are taken primarily from the Latin and Greek scripts, and some are novel creations. The IPA is a Latin script, and languages which are written using IPA characters are written with the Latin alphabet.

The IPA is important in a number of contexts. It is used in dictionaries and language-learning textbooks to indicate the pronunciation of words. It is also used by actors who are required to learn a regional accent for a particular part. It is often used as a basis for creating new orthographies for previously unwritten languages.

The IPA is encoded in Unicode. However, although it is a Latin script, not all the IPA characters can be found in the Latin and Latin Extensions blocks. Some, such as ɛ and θ, are in the Greek block, as they are originally Greek characters. Other characters have been created specifically for the IPA, such as ə, ʣ and ɠ. They may be found amongst the IPA Extensions block (U+0250-02AF), the Spacing Modifier Letters block (U+02B0-02FF), the Phonetic Extensions block and Phonetic Extensions Supplement (U+1D00-1D7F and U+1D80-1DBF), the Modifier Tone Letters block (U+A700-A71F) and the Superscripts and Subscripts block (U+2070-209F). Note that not all of the characters in all of these blocks are part of the IPA.