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Vowel symbols and sounds in the International Phonetic Alphabet

Variations of a

There are 4 different "a" sounds in human languages. For "a" sounds, the mouth is open, and the lips are not rounded. The "a" sound can be formed further in front, or further back. English words like "bar" and "father" are typically spoken with an "a" sound, which can be short or long.


Hear sound  12
The open 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 use the symbol [a] for an open central unrounded vowel (which has no official symbol), and to use [æ] (officially a near-open front unrounded vowel) to represent an open front unrounded vowel. This is the normal practice, for example, in the historical study of the English language. According to International Phonetic Association standards and normal phonetic practice, phonemic /a/ may be used to represent a central open vowel when no confusion arises, and the exact quality as a centralized vowel may be specified if necessary with the central diacritic, [ä], or the retracted diacritic, [a?]. It is claimed that, since no language distinguishes front from central open vowels, a separate symbol is not considered necessary. In practice, however, a need to distinguish the two is often felt. Other solutions to the problem exist than the one presented above. For example, many Sinologists use an unofficial symbol [A] (small capital A) alternatively (see Obsolete and nonstandard symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet).


Hear sound  19
The near-open central vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ?, a rotated lowercase letter ‹a›.


Hear sound  20
The open back unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ?, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is A. The symbol ? is called script a because it lacks the extra hook on top of a printed letter a, which corresponds to a different vowel, the open front unrounded vowel. Script a, which has its linear stroke on the bottom right, should not be confused with turned script a, ?, which has its linear stroke on the top left and corresponds to a rounded version of this vowel, the open back rounded vowel.


Hear sound  22
The open-mid back unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ?, a rotated lowercase letter ‹v› (though conceived of as a small uppercase letter ‹A› without the crossbar), and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is V. The IPA symbol is an inverted letter v (called a turned V), and both the symbol and the sound are commonly referred to as either a wedge, a caret, or a hat. In transcriptions for some languages (including several dialects of English), this symbol is also used for the near-open central vowel.


Variations of e

There aren't many. Like "a" sounds, the "e" sounds are spoken with lips not rounded. However, the mouth is not open like with "a" but rather closed. English words usually spoken with an "e" vowel are "rest" and "best".


Hear sound  5
The near-close near-front unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ?, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is I. The IPA symbol is a small capital letter i.


Hear sound  7
The close-mid front unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is e.


Variations of i

There aren't really any. The lips are open just enough to let air pass, and not rounded, with the tongue pressed at the lower front teeth. Sounds like in "teeth", "see" and "sea", or "we".


Hear sound  1
The close front unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is i, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is i.

Languages that use the Latin alphabet commonly use ‹i› to represent this sound, though there are some notable exceptions: in English orthography this letter is more commonly associated with /a?/ (as in bite) or /?/ (as in bit) and /i:/ is represented with ‹e›, ‹ea›, ‹ee›, and even ‹ei›. Irish orthography is similar in that its spelling system is both etymological and used to indicate whether preceding consonants are broad or slender so that such combinations as ‹aí›, ‹ei›, and ‹aío› all represent /i:/.


Variations of o

All "o" sounds are formed with the lips rounded, and the sound formed in the back or towards the back of the mouth. The differentiations are in whether the mouth is closed or open. An English example for a closed "o" is the flower "rose" or the "close". It's harder with an example for an open "o" as regional variations may make it an "a". Try "lord" or "shore" (open mouth when sounding the "o").


Hear sound  15
The close-mid central rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ?. The symbol ? is a lowercase barred letter o, and should not be confused with the Greek letter theta (?), which in IPA corresponds to a consonant sound, the voiceless dental fricative. The symbol for the close-mid central rounded vowel may also be used with a lowering diacritic, [??], to denote the mid central rounded vowel.

The character ? has been used in several Latin-derived alphabets such as the one for Janalif, but in that language it denotes a different sound than it does in the IPA. The character is homographic with Cyrillic . The Unicode number is U+019F, and the symbol is called "LATIN LETTER O WITH MIDDLE TILDE".


Hear sound  21
The open back rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ?, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is Q. The symbol <?> is called turned script a, because it is a rotated version of script a, so-called because it lacks the extra stroke on top of a printed 'a'. Turned script a, which has its linear stroke on the left, should not be confused with script a , which has its linear stroke on the right and corresponds to an unrounded version of this vowel, the open back unrounded vowel. A well rounded [?] is rare, though it is found in some varieties of English. In most languages with this vowel, such as English and Persian, the rounding of [?] is slight. However, Assamese has an "over-rounded" [??] with rounding as strong as that for [u].


Hear sound  23
The open-mid back rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ?. The IPA symbol is a turned letter c and both the symbol and the sound are commonly called "open-o". The name open-o represents the sound, in that it is like the sound represented by [o], the close-mid back rounded vowel, except it is more open. It also represents the symbol, which can be remembered as an o which has been "opened" by removing part of the closed circular shape.


Hear sound  25
The close-mid back rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is o.


Variations of u

None really. Like with "o", the lips are rounded and the sound is formed in the back of the mouth, but the lips are always almost closed.


Hear sound  27
The close back rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is u, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is u. In most languages this rounded vowel is pronounced with protruded lips ('endolabial'). However, in a few cases the lips are compressed ('exolabial').


Variations of umlaut a

German puts two dots above "a" for this range of vowel sounds. But because this explanation strictly uses ASCII characters only, we call it "umlaut a". Like with "a", the lips are never rounded. However, the mouth is not as wide open as with "a", and never as closed as with "e". In German, "umlaut a" can be written as "ae", but this is misleading, as some languages, like Khmer, also have a diphthong "a-e", a glide sound from "a" to "e" which is quite different from the monothong "umlaut a". In English, "umlaut a" sounds are common, but the written representation can be anything: "can", "share", "where", "rear".


Hear sound  9
The open-mid front unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ‹?›.


Hear sound  11
The near-open front unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is æ, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is {. The IPA symbol is the lowercase ae ligature, and both the symbol and the sound are commonly referred to as "ash". In practice, /æ/ is sometimes used to represent an open front unrounded vowel; see the introduction to that page for more information.


Hear sound  17
The open-mid central unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is . Note that the IPA symbol is not the number "3", but a reversed epsilon.


Variations of umlaut o

This is o with dots on top in German. It's the vowel sound with most variations. It can be spoken with the mouth open at any degree, with the lips rounded or not, and anywhere from front to back. English words with some variations of this sound are: "her", "Sir", "worst", "church". most anything goes for this sound in the English phonetic mess.


Hear sound  6
The near-close near-front rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is Y, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is Y. In most languages this rounded vowel is pronounced with compressed lips ('exolabial'). However, in a few cases the lips are protruded ('endolabial'). This is the case with Swedish, which contrasts the two types of rounding.


Hear sound  8
The close-mid front rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ø, a lowercase letter o with a diagonal stroke through it, derived from the Danish, Norwegian and Faroese alphabets which use the letter to represent this sound. The symbol is commonly referred to as "o, slash" in English.


Hear sound  10
The open-mid front rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is œ. The symbol œ is a lowercase ligature of the letters o and e. Note that , a small caps version of the Œ ligature, is used for a distinct vowel sound: the open front rounded vowel.


Hear sound  13
The open front rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, not confirmed to be phonemic in any spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is &. The symbol is a small caps rendition of Œ. Note that œ, the lowercase version of the ligature, is used for the open-mid front rounded vowel.


Hear sound  14
The close-mid central unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ?. This is a reversed letter e, and should not be confused with the schwa ? or turned e . This symbol may be used with a lowering diacritic [??], to denote the mid central unrounded vowel.


Hear sound  15
The close-mid central rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ?. The symbol ? is a lowercase barred letter o, and should not be confused with the Greek letter theta (?), which in IPA corresponds to a consonant sound, the voiceless dental fricative. The symbol for the close-mid central rounded vowel may also be used with a lowering diacritic, [??], to denote the mid central rounded vowel.

The character ? has been used in several Latin-derived alphabets such as the one for Janalif, but in that language it denotes a different sound than it does in the IPA. The character is homographic with Cyrillic . The Unicode number is U+019F, and the symbol is called "LATIN LETTER O WITH MIDDLE TILDE".


Hear sound  18
The open-mid central rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is 3\. The symbol is called closed reversed epsilon. Due to either typographic or design error, IPA charts were published with this vowel transcribed as a closed epsilon, <>, and this graphic variant made its way into Unicode. The form <> is considered correct.


Hear sound  24
The close-mid back unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. Its symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet is , called "ram's horns". It is distinct from the symbol for the voiced velar fricative, , which has a descender. Before 1989, the symbol for this sound was , sometimes called "baby gamma", which has a flat top. Now the symbol is , "ram's horns", with a rounded top. Unicode provides a space only for LATIN SMALL LETTER RAMS HORN (U+0264), but in some fonts this character may appear as a "baby gamma" instead.


Hear sound  26
The close back unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is . Typographically a turned letter m, given its relation to the sound represented by the letter u it can be considered a u with an extra "bowl". The sound is sometimes referred to as "unrounded u".


Variations of umlaut u

In German, it's "u" with two dots on top. The sound can only be created with rather closed lips, rounded or not rounded, and only towards the front. It isn't very common in English, and mostly associated with linguistic imports from France: "physique", "mystical".


Hear sound  2
The close front rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is y, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is y. In various languages, it is written as ‹ü›, ‹uu›, ‹u›, ‹u›, ‹y›, ‹??›, or . In most languages, this rounded vowel is pronounced with compressed lips ('exolabial'). However, in a few cases the lips are protruded ('endolabial').


Hear sound  3
The close central unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is . The IPA symbol is the letter i with a horizontal bar. Both the symbol and the sound are commonly referred to as "barred-i".


Hear sound  4
The close central rounded vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is }. The IPA symbol is the letter u with a horizontal bar. Both the symbol and the sound are commonly referred to as "barred u". In most languages this rounded vowel is pronounced with protruded lips (endolabial). However, in a few cases the lips are compressed (exolabial). There is also a near-close central rounded vowel in some languages.

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