Open front unrounded vowel

Open front unrounded vowel
a
IPA number 304
Encoding
Entity (decimal) a
Unicode (hex) U+0061
X-SAMPA a
Kirshenbaum a
Sound

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The open front unrounded vowel, or low front unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in many spoken languages. According to the official standards of the International Phonetic Association, the symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is [a].

In practice, however, it is very common to approximate this sound with [æ] (officially a near-open (near-low) front unrounded vowel),[citation needed] and to use [a] as an open (low) central unrounded vowel. This is the normal practice, for example, in the historical study of the English language. The loss of separate symbols for open and near-open front vowels is usually considered unproblematic, since the perceptual difference between the two is quite small, and very few, if any, languages contrast the two. See open central unrounded vowel for more information.

The IPA prefers terms "close" and "open" for vowels, and the name of the article follows this. However, a large number of linguists, perhaps a majority, prefer the terms "high" and "low", and these are the only terms found in introductory textbooks on phonetics such as those by Peter Ladefoged.

Contents

Features

IPA vowel chart
Front Near-​front Central Near-​back Back
Close
Blank vowel trapezoid.svg
iy
ɨʉ
ɯu
ɪʏ
ʊ
eø
ɘɵ
ɤo
ɛœ
ɜɞ
ʌɔ
æ
aɶ
ä
ɑɒ
Near-close
Close-mid
Mid
Open-mid
Near-open
Open
Paired vowels are: unrounded • rounded
This table contains phonetic symbols. They may not display correctly in some browsers (Help).

IPA help • IPA key • chart • Loudspeaker.svg chart with audio • view
  • Its vowel height is open, also known as low, which means the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth – that is, as low as possible in the mouth.
  • Its vowel backness is front, which means the tongue is positioned as far forward as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. This subsumes central open (central low) vowels because the tongue does not have as much flexibility in positioning as it does in the mid and close (high) vowels; the difference between an open front vowel and an open back vowel is similar to the difference between a close front and a close central vowel, or a close central and a close back vowel.
  • Its vowel roundedness is unrounded, which means that the lips are not rounded.

Occurrence

Most languages have some form of an unrounded open vowel. For languages that have only a single low vowel, the symbol for this vowel <a> may be used because it is the only low vowel whose symbol is part of the basic Latin alphabet. Whenever marked as such, the vowel is closer to a central [ä] than to a front [a].

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Arabic Levantine[1] بان [baːn] 'he/it appeared' See Arabic phonology
Bengali পা/pa [pa] 'leg' See Bengali phonology
Catalan Majorcan sac [ˈsac] 'sack' Corresponds to [ä] in other varieties. See Catalan phonology
Chinese Cantonese /saa1 [saː˥] 'sand' See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin /tā [tʰa˥] 'he' See Mandarin phonology
English Inland Northern American stock [stak] 'stock' See Northern cities vowel shift
Canadian stack [stak] 'stack' Depending on the region, the quality may vary from front to central or even further back (in some Scottish and Ulster accents for example); the length may also vary (for example, it is shorter in Scottish than in Canadian); many speakers may have [æ] instead. For the Canadian vowel, see Canadian Shift and English phonology
Northern English
Irish
Jamaican
Scottish
Welsh
German Rat [ˈʀaːt] 'advice' In some dialects, this may actually be a back vowel. See German phonology
Greek ακακία/akaa [akaˈcia] 'acacia' See Modern Greek phonology
Lithuanian namas [ˈnaːmas] 'house'
Malay api [api] 'fire'
North Frisian braan [braːn] 'to burn'
Russian там [tam] 'there' See Russian phonology
Vietnamese xa [saː] 'gauze' See Vietnamese phonology
Welsh mam [mam] 'mother' See Welsh phonology
West Frisian laad [ɫaːt] 'drawer'
Zapotec Tilquiapan[2] na [na] 'now'

References

Bibliography

  • Merrill, Elizabeth (2008), "Tilquiapan Zapotec", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 38 (1): 107–114, doi:10.1017/S0025100308003344 
  • Thelwall, Robin; Sa'Adeddin, M. Akram (1990), "Illustrations of the IPA: Arabic", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 20 (2): 37–41, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004266 

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