Open front unrounded vowel

Open front unrounded vowel
IPA number 304
Entity (decimal) a
Unicode (hex) U+0061
X-SAMPA a or a_+ or {_o
Kirshenbaum a
Braille ⠁ (braille pattern dots-1)
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The open front unrounded vowel, or low front unrounded vowel, 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.[1]

The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) that represents this sound is a, and 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 an extra-open/low unrounded central vowel 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.[2]

In practice, it is considered normal by many phoneticians to use the symbol a for an open central unrounded vowel and instead approximate the open front unrounded vowel with æ (which officially signifies a near-open front unrounded vowel).[3] 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 one needs to specify that the vowel is front, they can use symbols like (advanced [a]), or æ̞ (lowered [æ]), with the latter being more common.

The Hamont dialect of Limburgish has been reported to contrast long open front, central and back unrounded vowels,[4] which is extremely unusual.


IPA vowel chart
Front Near-front Central Near-back Back
i  y
ɨ  ʉ
ɯ  u
ɪ  ʏ
ɪ̈  ʊ̈
ɯ̽  ʊ
e  ø
ɘ  ɵ
ɤ  o
ə  ɵ̞
ɛ  œ
ɜ  ɞ
ʌ  ɔ
ɐ  ɞ̞
a  ɶ
ä  ɒ̈
ɑ  ɒ
Paired vowels are: unrounded  rounded
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IPA help  IPA key  chart   chart with audio  view


Many languages have some form of an unrounded open vowel. For languages that have only a single open vowel, the symbol for this vowel a may be used because it is the only open 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 Standard[5] أنا [anaː]'I am' See Arabic phonology
Assamese [am] 'mango'
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic la [laː] 'no' Widely present in Urmia and Jilu dialects. Corresponds to [ä] in most of the other varieties. In the Tyari dialect, [ɑ] is usually used.
Bulgarian[6] най [n̪a̠j] 'most' Near-front.[6]
Catalan Many dialects llamp [ˈl̠ʲæ̞m(p)] 'lightning' Allophone of /a/ in contact with palatal consonants. It may vary between /ɛ/ and /a/. See Catalan phonology
Majorcan sac [ˈsæ̞k] 'sack' Fully front and slightly closed
Valencian Usually more centralized. It alternates with ɐ (i.e. [ä̝], [ɑ̝̈] and [ɛ̞̈] ~ [ɔ̞̈]) during vowel harmony processes.
Chinese Mandarin /ān  [ʔan˥]  'safe' Allophone of /a/ before /i, n/ when not preceded by a palatal. See Standard Chinese phonology
Danish Some speakers[7] Dansk [ˈd̥ansɡ̊] 'Danish' Used by certain older or upper-class speakers; it corresponds to near-open [æ] in contemporary Standard Danish.[8] See Danish phonology
Dutch Standard[9] aas [aːs] 'bait' Ranges from front to central.[10] See Dutch phonology
Broad Amsterdam[12] ijs 'ice' Corresponds to [ɛi̯] in Standard Dutch. See Dutch phonology
Utrecht[13] bad [bat] 'bath' Corresponds to [ɑ] in Standard Netherlandic Dutch. See Dutch phonology
English California[14][15] hat  [hat]  'hat' In other accents, or in some other speakers of the accents listed here, the quality may be anywhere from front [ɛ ~ æ ~ a] to central [ä] to back [ɑ], depending on the region. In some regions, the quality may be variable. For the Canadian vowel, see Canadian Shift. See also English phonology
Few younger speakers from Texas[15]
Many younger Australian speakers[17]
Modern speakers of Received Pronunciation[18]
Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg[19]
Some speakers from central Ohio[15]
Cockney[20][21] stuck [stak] 'stuck' Can be [ɐ̟] instead.
Inland Northern American[22] stock 'stock' Less front [ɑ ~ ä] in other American dialects. See Northern cities vowel shift
French Conservative Parisian[23] patte [pat̪] 'paw' Contrasts with [ɑ], but many speakers have only one open vowel [ä]. See French phonology
Galician[24] caixa [ˈkajʃä] 'box' Allophone of /a/ before palatal consonants.[24] See Galician phonology
German Bernese drääje [ˈtræ̞ːjə] 'turn' See Bernese German phonology
Gujarati શાંતિ/shanti [ʃant̪i] 'peace' See Gujarati phonology
Igbo[25] ákụ [ákú̙] 'kernal'
Kabardian дахэ  [daːxa] 'pretty'
Limburgish[4][26][27][28] baas [baːs] 'boss' Front or near-front, depending on the dialect.[4][26][27][28] The example word is from the Maastrichtian dialect.[27]
Luxembourgish[29][30] Kap [kʰaːpʰ] 'cap' Described variously as front[29] and near-front.[30] See Luxembourgish phonology
North Frisian braan [braːn] 'to burn'
Norwegian Stavangersk[31] hatt [hat] 'hat' See Norwegian phonology
Trondheimsk[32] lær [laːɾ] 'leather'
West Farsund[33] hat [haːt] 'hate' Some speakers, for others it is more back. See Norwegian phonology
Polish[34] jajo  [ˈjajɔ]  'egg' Allophone of /a/ between palatal or palatalized consonants. See Polish phonology
Portuguese Most Brazilian dialects informática [ĩfɔ̞χˈmat͡ʃjkɐ] 'computing' See Portuguese phonology
Slovak[35] a [a̠] 'and' Near-front; possible realization of /a/. Most commonly realized as central [ä] instead.[36] See Slovak phonology
Spanish Eastern Andalusian[37] las madres [læ̞ˑ ˈmæ̞ːð̞ɾɛˑ] 'the mothers' Corresponds to [ä] in other dialects, but in these dialects they're distinct. See Spanish phonology
Swedish Central Standard[38] bank [baŋk] 'bank' Also described as central [ä].[39] See Swedish phonology
Welsh mam [mam] 'mother' See Welsh phonology
Zapotec Tilquiapan[41] na [na] 'now'


  1. John Coleman: Cardinal vowels
  2. Geoff Lindsey (2013) The vowel space, Speech Talk
  3. Keith Johnson: Vowels in the languages of the world (PDF), p. 9
  4. 1 2 3 Verhoeven (2007), p. 221.
  5. Thelwall & Sa'Adeddin (1990), p. 38.
  6. 1 2 Ternes & Vladimirova-Buhtz (1999), p. 56.
  7. Basbøll (2005:32)
  8. Basbøll (2005:32, 45)
  9. Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 95, 104, 132-133.
  10. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 104.
  11. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 133.
  12. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 136.
  13. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 131.
  14. Gordon (2004), p. 347.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Thomas (2004:308): A few younger speakers from, e.g., Texas, who show the LOT/THOUGHT merger have TRAP shifted toward [a], but this retraction is not yet as common as in some non-Southern regions (e.g., California and Canada), though it is increasing in parts of the Midwest on the margins of the South (e.g., central Ohio).
  16. Boberg (2005), pp. 133–154.
  17. Cox (2012), p. 160.
  18. "Case Studies – Received Pronunciation Phonology – RP Vowel Sounds". British Library.
  19. Bekker (2008), pp. 83–84.
  20. Wells (1982), p. 305.
  21. Hughes & Trudgill (1979), p. 35.
  22. W. Labov, S. Ash and C. Boberg (1997). "A national map of the regional dialects of American English". Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
  23. Ashby (2011), p. 100.
  24. 1 2 Freixeiro Mato (2006), pp. 72–73.
  25. Ikekeonwu (1999), p. 109.
  26. 1 2 Peters (2006), p. 119.
  27. 1 2 3 Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), p. 159.
  28. 1 2 Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998), p. 110.
  29. 1 2 Trouvain & Gilles (2009), p. 75.
  30. 1 2 Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 70.
  31. Vanvik (1979), p. 17.
  32. Vanvik (1979), p. 15.
  33. Vanvik (1979), p. 16.
  34. Jassem (2003), p. 106.
  35. Pavlík (2004:95)
  36. Pavlík (2004:94–95)
  37. 1 2 Zamora Vicente (1967), p. ?.
  38. Thorén & Petterson (1992), p. 15.
  39. Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  40. "Vastesi Language - Vastesi in the World". Vastesi in the World. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  41. Merrill (2008), p. 109.


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