Open front unrounded vowel

Open front unrounded vowel
IPA Number304
Audio sample
Entity (decimal)a
Unicode (hex)U+0061
Braille⠁ (braille pattern dots-1)

The open front unrounded vowel, or low front unrounded vowel,[1] is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. It is one of the eight primary cardinal vowels, not directly intended to correspond to a vowel sound of a specific language but rather to serve as a fundamental reference point in a phonetic measuring system.[2]

The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) that represents this sound is a, a double-story lowercase a. In the IPA vowel chart it is positioned at the lower-left corner. However, the accuracy of the quadrilateral vowel chart is disputed, and the sound has been analyzed acoustically as extra-open at a position where the front/back distinction has lost its significance. There are also differing interpretations of the exact quality of the vowel: the classic sound recording of [a] by Daniel Jones is slightly more front but not quite as open as that by John Wells.[3]

In practice, the symbol a is often used to represent an open central unrounded vowel.[4] This is the usual 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, because the perceptual difference between the two is quite small, and very few languages contrast the two. If there is a need to specify the backness of the vowel as fully front one can use the symbol æ̞, which denotes a lowered near-open front unrounded vowel, or with the IPA "advanced" diacritic.

  1. ^ While the International Phonetic Association prefers the terms "close" and "open" for vowel height, many linguists use "high" and "low".
  2. ^ John Coleman: Cardinal vowels
  3. ^ Geoff Lindsey (2013) The vowel space, Speech Talk
  4. ^ Keith Johnson: Vowels in the languages of the world Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine (PDF), p. 9

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