I'm part of a writing group and we are using Plain TeX (well, pdfTeX).

Currently I need to write the symbol ə ("schwa"?), but I have no clue how to do this.

3 Answers 3


Here's a Plain TeX way


If you run

pdftex testfont

and at the

Name of the font to test =

prompt you answert tipa10 and at the next prompt you write \table\bye, a table of the font will be output. There you can recognize that ə is at position 0x40, so also


would do.

The tipa font is available in the following incarnations:

tipa8 tipa9 tipa10 tipa12 tipa17
tipasl8 tipasl9 tipasl10 tipasl12 tipasl17
tipabx8 tipabx9 tipabx10 tipabx12 tipabx17

The last two are, respectively "bold" and "bold slanted" (not extended). No italic, unfortunately.



recognised my rubbish mouse drawing enough to suggest

Score: 0.192759057081711
\usepackage{ tipa }

Clearly the tipa package syntax is latex but the fonts will of course be usable from plain.

  • Yes, but the problem is: I'm forced to use plain TeX. That's a great LaTeX solution, though... Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 16:52
  • It's easy enough to find out the font latex is using (eg put \showoutput and look in the log, then load that font into plain.) Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 17:42
  • TIPA redefines certain commands facilitate inputting some phonetic symbols. This means these symbols do not have their usual LATEX meanings, which can mess up other macros. (In particular, this is true of the commands \*, \;, \:, and \!). You can make sure the original meanings of the symbols are preserved by using the safe option when loading the package: \usepackage[safe]{tipa} Just an FYI if you wonder why including a package would mess up ones project entirely.. @DavidCarlisle you could add the safe in your answer ?
    – dfh
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 2:16

If you can use TIPA, you can use \textschwa

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