Phonetics - Minimal IPA Keyboard Set Up

Phonemic chart with examples

I've been looking around for a minimal way of getting IPA symbols on my Arch system (yeah, yeah btw I use arch. funneh.)

There is this keyboard called SIL which I've tested on Windows. Some of the key sequences are weird; moreover, you need to download an entire keyboard called keyman desktop to install SIL on. Oh, did I mention the part that it's not available on Arch? not even AUR??? Yeah... (ik there is a sil package, but it's just a Roguelike game)

So, after a while I decided to go with the most minimal option; using the compose key.

The compose key and compose LED on Sun Type 5 and 5c keyboards is the second-rightmost key on the bottom row.

Before moving on, I have to be clear about my software choice:

  • Os: Arch linux x86_64
  • Kernel: 5.11.1-arch1-1 (this won’t probably be an issue)
  • IME: ibus
  • Display Server: X (this is required for this guide, I’ve no idea about any other alternatives to X)

I’m gonna break this guide down into the dotfiles that you have to mess with.


First you need this command somewhere in your ~/.xinitrc:

setxkbmap -option compose:menu

This code will set a compose key for you, I decided to go with menu since it’s pretty much useless.

To get a list of the keys you can use as your compose key, use:

$ grep "compose:" /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/base.lst


Then you need to make ibus respek your ~/.XCompose file (which you need for setting your custom combinations), just add the following to your ~/.xprofile:

export GTK_IM_MODULE="ibus"
export QT_IM_MODULE="ibus"
export XMODIFIERS=@im=none

Change ibus to XIM if you aren’t using any IME. fcitx for well fcitx.


In your ~/.XCompose file:

include "%L"

<Multi_key> <l> <l> : "ː"
<Multi_key> <i> <i> : "ɪ"
<Multi_key> <u> <u> : "ʊ"
<Multi_key> <e> <a> : "ə"
<Multi_key> <e> <3> : "ɜ"
<Multi_key> <o> <o> : "ɔ"
<Multi_key> <u> <^> : "ʌ"
<Multi_key> <a> <a> : "ɑ"
<Multi_key> <o> <a> : "ɒ"
<Multi_key> <c> <h> : "tʃ"
<Multi_key> <z> <h> : "dʒ"
<Multi_key> <t> <h> : "θ"
<Multi-key> <d> <h> : "ð"
<Multi_key> <s> <h> : "ʃ"
<Multi_key> <z> <z> : "ʒ"

Multi_key is just another name for compose.

I have to mention that these are my key choices; I’ve chosen them based on how sensible and how easy to type they are (prioritizing the ease).

There are of course symbols that I didn’t include. Symbols like the voiceless bilabial glide (/w̥/) or the glottal stop (/ʔ/), both of which have alternative methods of writing and are generally uncommon. There are many cases like these two in English phonetics.

If you have any suggestions, contact me via tox.

həʊp ɪt wɒz ˈjuːsfʊl <3 XD

Further reading