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A vowel is a syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowel_sentence_0

Vowels are one of the two principal classes of speech sounds, the other being the consonant. Vowel_sentence_1

Vowels vary in quality, in loudness and also in quantity (length). Vowel_sentence_2

They are usually voiced, and are closely involved in prosodic variation such as tone, intonation and stress. Vowel_sentence_3

The word vowel comes from the Latin word vocalis, meaning "vocal" (i.e. relating to the voice). Vowel_sentence_4

In English, the word vowel is commonly used to refer both to vowel sounds and to the written symbols that represent them (e.g. a,e,i,o,u, and sometimes y). Vowel_sentence_5

Definition Vowel_section_0

There are two complementary definitions of vowel, one phonetic and the other phonological. Vowel_sentence_6


  • In the phonetic definition, a vowel is a sound, such as the English "ah" /ɑː/ or "oh" /oʊ/, produced with an open vocal tract; it is median (the air escapes along the middle of the tongue), oral (at least some of the airflow must escape through the mouth), frictionless and continuant. There is no significant build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as the English "sh" [ʃ], which have a constriction or closure at some point along the vocal tract.Vowel_item_0_0
  • In the phonological definition, a vowel is defined as syllabic, the sound that forms the peak of a syllable. A phonetically equivalent but non-syllabic sound is a semivowel. In oral languages, phonetic vowels normally form the peak (nucleus) of many or all syllables, whereas consonants form the onset and (in languages that have them) coda. Some languages allow other sounds to form the nucleus of a syllable, such as the syllabic (i.e., vocalic) l in the English word table [ˈtʰeɪ.bl̩] (when not considered to have a weak vowel sound: [ˈtʰeɪ.bəl]) or the syllabic r in the Serbo-Croatian word vrt [ʋr̩̂t] "garden".Vowel_item_0_1

The phonetic definition of "vowel" (i.e. a sound produced with no constriction in the vocal tract) does not always match the phonological definition (i.e. a sound that forms the peak of a syllable). Vowel_sentence_7

The approximants [j] and [w] illustrate this: both are without much of a constriction in the vocal tract (so phonetically they seem to be vowel-like), but they occur at the onset of syllables (e.g. in "yet" and "wet") which suggests that phonologically they are consonants. Vowel_sentence_8

A similar debate arises over whether a word like bird in a rhotic dialect has an r-colored vowel /ɝ/ or a syllabic consonant /ɹ̩/. Vowel_sentence_9

The American linguist Kenneth Pike (1943) suggested the terms "vocoid" for a phonetic vowel and "vowel" for a phonological vowel, so using this terminology, [j] and [w] are classified as vocoids but not vowels. Vowel_sentence_10

However, Maddieson and Emmory (1985) demonstrated from a range of languages that semivowels are produced with a narrower constriction of the vocal tract than vowels, and so may be considered consonants on that basis. Vowel_sentence_11

Nonetheless, the phonetic and phonemic definitions would still conflict for the syllabic /l/ in table, or the syllabic nasals in button and rhythm. Vowel_sentence_12

Articulation Vowel_section_1

The traditional view of vowel production, reflected for example in the terminology and presentation of the International Phonetic Alphabet, is one of articulatory features that determine a vowel's quality as distinguishing it from other vowels. Vowel_sentence_13

Daniel Jones developed the cardinal vowel system to describe vowels in terms of the features of tongue height (vertical dimension), tongue backness (horizontal dimension) and roundedness (lip articulation). Vowel_sentence_14

These three parameters are indicated in the schematic quadrilateral IPA vowel diagram on the right. Vowel_sentence_15

There are additional features of vowel quality, such as the velum position (nasality), type of vocal fold vibration (phonation), and tongue root position. Vowel_sentence_16

This conception of vowel articulation has been known to be inaccurate since 1928. Vowel_sentence_17

Peter Ladefoged has said that "early phoneticians... thought they were describing the highest point of the tongue, but they were not. Vowel_sentence_18

They were actually describing formant frequencies." Vowel_sentence_19

(See below.) Vowel_sentence_20

The IPA Handbook concedes that "the vowel quadrilateral must be regarded as an abstraction and not a direct mapping of tongue position." Vowel_sentence_21

Nonetheless, the concept that vowel qualities are determined primarily by tongue position and lip rounding continues to be used in pedagogy, as it provides an intuitive explanation of how vowels are distinguished. Vowel_sentence_22

Height Vowel_section_2

Theoretically, vowel height refers to the vertical position of either the tongue or the jaw (depending on the model) relative to either the roof of the mouth or the aperture of the jaw. Vowel_sentence_23

In practice, however, it refers to the first formant (lowest resonance of the voice), abbreviated F1, which is associated with the height of the tongue. Vowel_sentence_24

In close vowels, also known as high vowels, such as [i] and [u], the first formant is consistent with the tongue being positioned close to the palate, high in the mouth, whereas in open vowels, also known as low vowels, such as [a], F1 is consistent with the jaw being open and the tongue being positioned low in the mouth. Vowel_sentence_25

Height is defined by the inverse of the F1 value: The higher the frequency of the first formant, the lower (more open) the vowel. Vowel_sentence_26

In John Elsing's usage, where fronted vowels are distinguished in height by the position of the jaw rather than the tongue, only the terms 'open' and 'close' are used, as 'high' and 'low' refer to the position of the tongue. Vowel_sentence_27

The International Phonetic Alphabet defines seven degrees of vowel height, but no language is known to distinguish all of them without distinguishing another attribute: Vowel_sentence_28


The letters [e, ø, ɵ, ɤ, o] are typically used for either close-mid or true-mid vowels. Vowel_sentence_29

However, if more precision is required, true-mid vowels may be written with a lowering diacritic [e̞, ø̞, ɵ̞, ɤ̞, o̞]. Vowel_sentence_30

The Kensiu language, spoken in Malaysia and Thailand, is highly unusual in that it contrasts true-mid with close-mid and open-mid vowels, without any difference in other parameters like backness or roundness. Vowel_sentence_31

It appears that some varieties of German have five vowel heights that contrast independently of length or other parameters. Vowel_sentence_32

The Bavarian dialect of Amstetten has thirteen long vowels, which can be analyzed as distinguishing five heights (close, close-mid, mid, open-mid and open) each among the front unrounded, front rounded, and back rounded vowels as well as an open central vowel, for a total of five vowel heights: /i e ɛ̝ ɛ/, /y ø œ̝ œ/, /u o ɔ̝ ɔ/, /ä/. Vowel_sentence_33

No other language is known to contrast more than four degrees of vowel height. Vowel_sentence_34

The parameter of vowel height appears to be the primary cross-linguistic feature of vowels in that all spoken languages that have been researched till now use height as a contrastive feature. Vowel_sentence_35

No other parameter, even backness or rounding (see below), is used in all languages. Vowel_sentence_36

Some languages have vertical vowel systems in which at least at a phonemic level, only height is used to distinguish vowels. Vowel_sentence_37

Backness Vowel_section_3

Vowel backness is named for the position of the tongue during the articulation of a vowel relative to the back of the mouth. Vowel_sentence_38

As with vowel height, however, it is defined by a formant of the voice, in this case the second, F2, not by the position of the tongue. Vowel_sentence_39

In front vowels, such as [i], the frequency of F2 is relatively high, which generally corresponds to a position of the tongue forward in the mouth, whereas in back vowels, such as [u], F2 is low, consistent with the tongue being positioned towards the back of the mouth. Vowel_sentence_40

The International Phonetic Alphabet defines five degrees of vowel backness: Vowel_sentence_41


To them may be added front-central and back-central, corresponding to the vertical lines separating central from front and back vowel spaces in several IPA diagrams. Vowel_sentence_42

However, front-central and back-central may also be used as terms synonymous with near-front and near-back. Vowel_sentence_43

No language is known to contrast more than three degrees of backness nor is there a language that contrasts front with near-front vowels nor back with near-back ones. Vowel_sentence_44

Although some English dialects have vowels at five degrees of backness, there is no known language that distinguishes five degrees of backness without additional differences in height or rounding. Vowel_sentence_45

Roundedness Vowel_section_4

Main article: Roundedness Vowel_sentence_46

Roundedness is named after the rounding of the lips in some vowels. Vowel_sentence_47

Because lip rounding is easily visible, vowels may be commonly identified as rounded based on the articulation of the lips. Vowel_sentence_48

Acoustically, rounded vowels are identified chiefly by a decrease in F2, although F1 is also slightly decreased. Vowel_sentence_49

In most languages, roundedness is a reinforcing feature of mid to high back vowels rather than a distinctive feature. Vowel_sentence_50

Usually, the higher a back vowel, the more intense is the rounding. Vowel_sentence_51

However, in some languages, roundedness is independent from backness, such as French and German (with front rounded vowels), most Uralic languages (Estonian has a rounding contrast for /o/ and front vowels), Turkic languages (with a rounding distinction for front vowels and /u/), and Vietnamese with back unrounded vowels. Vowel_sentence_52

Nonetheless, even in those languages there is usually some phonetic correlation between rounding and backness: front rounded vowels tend to be more front-central than front, and back unrounded vowels tend to be more back-central than back. Vowel_sentence_53

Thus, the placement of unrounded vowels to the left of rounded vowels on the IPA vowel chart is reflective of their position in formant space. Vowel_sentence_54

Different kinds of labialization are possible. Vowel_sentence_55

In mid to high rounded back vowels the lips are generally protruded ("pursed") outward, a phenomenon known as endolabial rounding because the insides of the lips are visible, whereas in mid to high rounded front vowels the lips are generally "compressed" with the margins of the lips pulled in and drawn towards each other, a phenomenon known as exolabial rounding. Vowel_sentence_56

However, not all languages follow that pattern. Vowel_sentence_57

Japanese /u/, for example, is an exolabial (compressed) back vowel, and sounds quite different from an English endolabial /u/. Vowel_sentence_58

Swedish and Norwegian are the only two known languages in which the feature is contrastive; they have both exo- and endo-labial close front vowels and close central vowels, respectively. Vowel_sentence_59

In many phonetic treatments, both are considered types of rounding, but some phoneticians do not believe that these are subsets of a single phenomenon and posit instead three independent features of rounded (endolabial) and compressed (exolabial) and unrounded. Vowel_sentence_60

The lip position of unrounded vowels may also be classified separately as spread and neutral (neither rounded nor spread). Vowel_sentence_61

Others distinguish compressed rounded vowels, in which the corners of the mouth are drawn together, from compressed unrounded vowels, in which the lips are compressed but the corners remain apart as in spread vowels. Vowel_sentence_62

Front, raised and retracted Vowel_section_5

The conception of the tongue moving in two directions, high–low and front–back, is not supported by articulatory evidence and does not clarify how articulation affects vowel quality. Vowel_sentence_63

Vowels may instead be characterized by the three directions of movement of the tongue from its neutral position: front (forward), raised (upward and back), and retracted (downward and back). Vowel_sentence_64

Front vowels ([i, e, ɛ] and, to a lesser extent [ɨ, ɘ, ɜ, æ], etc.), can be secondarily qualified as close or open, as in the traditional conception, but this refers to jaw rather than tongue position. Vowel_sentence_65

In addition, rather than there being a unitary category of back vowels, the regrouping posits raised vowels, where the body of the tongue approaches the velum ([u, o, ɨ], etc.), and retracted vowels, where the root of the tongue approaches the pharynx ([ɑ, ɔ], etc.): Vowel_sentence_66


Membership in these categories is scalar, with the mid-central vowels being marginal to any category. Vowel_sentence_67

Nasalization Vowel_section_6

Main articles: Nasal vowel and Nasalization Vowel_sentence_68

Nasalization occurs when air escapes through the nose. Vowel_sentence_69

Vowels are often nasalised under the influence of neighbouring nasal consonants, as in English hand [hæ̃nd]. Vowel_sentence_70

Nasalised vowels, however, should not be confused with nasal vowels. Vowel_sentence_71

The latter refers to vowels that are distinct from their oral counterparts, as in French /ɑ/ vs. /ɑ̃/. Vowel_sentence_72

In nasal vowels, the velum is lowered, and some air travels through the nasal cavity as well as the mouth. Vowel_sentence_73

An oral vowel is a vowel in which all air escapes through the mouth. Vowel_sentence_74

Polish and Portuguese also contrast nasal and oral vowels. Vowel_sentence_75

Phonation Vowel_section_7

Main article: Phonation Vowel_sentence_76

Voicing describes whether the vocal cords are vibrating during the articulation of a vowel. Vowel_sentence_77

Most languages have only voiced vowels, but several Native American languages, such as Cheyenne and Totonac, contrast voiced and devoiced vowels. Vowel_sentence_78

Vowels are devoiced in whispered speech. Vowel_sentence_79

In Japanese and in Quebec French, vowels that are between voiceless consonants are often devoiced. Vowel_sentence_80

Modal voice, creaky voice, and breathy voice (murmured vowels) are phonation types that are used contrastively in some languages. Vowel_sentence_81

Often, they co-occur with tone or stress distinctions; in the Mon language, vowels pronounced in the high tone are also produced with creaky voice. Vowel_sentence_82

In such cases, it can be unclear whether it is the tone, the voicing type, or the pairing of the two that is being used for phonemic contrast. Vowel_sentence_83

The combination of phonetic cues (phonation, tone, stress) is known as register or register complex. Vowel_sentence_84

Tenseness Vowel_section_8

Main articles: Tenseness and Checked and free vowels Vowel_sentence_85

Tenseness is used to describe the opposition of tense vowels vs. lax vowels. Vowel_sentence_86

This opposition has traditionally been thought to be a result of greater muscular tension, though phonetic experiments have repeatedly failed to show this. Vowel_sentence_87

Unlike the other features of vowel quality, tenseness is only applicable to the few languages that have this opposition (mainly Germanic languages, e.g. English), whereas the vowels of the other languages (e.g. Spanish) cannot be described with respect to tenseness in any meaningful way. Vowel_sentence_88

One may distinguish the English tense vs. lax vowels roughly, with its spelling. Vowel_sentence_89

Tense vowels usually occur in words with the final silent e, as in mate. Vowel_sentence_90

Lax vowels occur in words without the silent e, such as mat. Vowel_sentence_91

In American English, lax vowels [ɪ, ʊ, ɛ, ʌ, æ] do not appear in stressed open syllables. Vowel_sentence_92

In traditional grammar, long vowels vs. short vowels are more commonly used, compared to tense and lax. Vowel_sentence_93

The two sets of terms are used interchangeably by some because the features are concomitant in some varieties of English. Vowel_sentence_94

In most Germanic languages, lax vowels can only occur in closed syllables. Vowel_sentence_95

Therefore, they are also known as checked vowels, whereas the tense vowels are called free vowels since they can occur in any kind of syllable. Vowel_sentence_96

Tongue root position Vowel_section_9

Main articles: Advanced and retracted tongue root and Vowel harmony Vowel_sentence_97

Advanced tongue root (ATR) is a feature common across much of Africa, the Pacific Northwest, and scattered other languages such as Modern Mongolian. Vowel_sentence_98

The contrast between advanced and retracted tongue root resembles the tense-lax contrast acoustically, but they are articulated differently. Vowel_sentence_99

Those vowels involve noticeable tension in the vocal tract. Vowel_sentence_100

Secondary narrowings in the vocal tract Vowel_section_10

Main article: Pharyngealization Vowel_sentence_101

Pharyngealized vowels occur in some languages like Sedang and the Tungusic languages. Vowel_sentence_102

Pharyngealisation is similar in articulation to retracted tongue root but is acoustically distinct. Vowel_sentence_103

A stronger degree of pharyngealisation occurs in the Northeast Caucasian languages and the Khoisan languages. Vowel_sentence_104

They might be called epiglottalized since the primary constriction is at the tip of the epiglottis. Vowel_sentence_105

The greatest degree of pharyngealisation is found in the strident vowels of the Khoisan languages, where the larynx is raised, and the pharynx constricted, so that either the epiglottis or the arytenoid cartilages vibrate instead of the vocal cords. Vowel_sentence_106

Note that the terms pharyngealized, epiglottalized, strident, and sphincteric are sometimes used interchangeably. Vowel_sentence_107

Rhotic vowels Vowel_section_11

Main article: R-colored vowel Vowel_sentence_108

Rhotic vowels are the "R-colored vowels" of American English and a few other languages. Vowel_sentence_109

Reduced vowels Vowel_section_12

Main article: Vowel reduction Vowel_sentence_110


Common reduced vowels (IPA provides only ⟨ə⟩ and ⟨ɐ⟩)Vowel_table_caption_0
Vowel_header_cell_0_0_0 Near- frontVowel_header_cell_0_0_1 CentralVowel_header_cell_0_0_2 Near- backVowel_header_cell_0_0_4
Near-closeVowel_header_cell_0_1_0 Vowel_cell_0_1_1 ᵿVowel_cell_0_1_3
MidVowel_header_cell_0_2_0 Vowel_cell_0_2_1 əVowel_cell_0_2_2 Vowel_cell_0_2_4
Near-openVowel_header_cell_0_3_0 Vowel_cell_0_3_1 ɐVowel_cell_0_3_2 Vowel_cell_0_3_4

Some languages, such as English and Russian, have what are called 'reduced', 'weak' or 'obscure' vowels in some unstressed positions. Vowel_sentence_111

These do not correspond one-to-one with the vowel sounds that occur in stressed position (so-called 'full' vowels), and they tend to be mid-centralized in comparison, as well as having reduced rounding or spreading. Vowel_sentence_112

The IPA has long provided two letters for obscure vowels, mid ⟨ə⟩ and lower ⟨ɐ⟩, neither of which are defined for rounding. Vowel_sentence_113

Dialects of English may have up to four phonemic reduced vowels: /ɐ/, /ə/, and higher unrounded /ᵻ/ and rounded /ᵿ/. Vowel_sentence_114

(The non-IPA letters ⟨ᵻ⟩ and ⟨ᵿ⟩ may be used for the latter to avoid confusion with the clearly defined values of IPA letters like ⟨ɨ⟩ and ⟨ɵ⟩, which are also seen, since the IPA only provides for two reduced vowels.) Vowel_sentence_115

Acoustics Vowel_section_13

Related article: Phonetics Vowel_sentence_116

The acoustics of vowels are fairly well understood. Vowel_sentence_117

The different vowel qualities are realized in acoustic analyses of vowels by the relative values of the formants, acoustic resonances of the vocal tract which show up as dark bands on a spectrogram. Vowel_sentence_118

The vocal tract acts as a resonant cavity, and the position of the jaw, lips, and tongue affect the parameters of the resonant cavity, resulting in different formant values. Vowel_sentence_119

The acoustics of vowels can be visualized using spectrograms, which display the acoustic energy at each frequency, and how this changes with time. Vowel_sentence_120

The first formant, abbreviated "F1", corresponds to vowel openness (vowel height). Vowel_sentence_121

Open vowels have high F1 frequencies, while close vowels have low F1 frequencies, as can be seen in the accompanying spectrogram: The [i] and [u] have similar low first formants, whereas [ɑ] has a higher formant. Vowel_sentence_122

The second formant, F2, corresponds to vowel frontness. Vowel_sentence_123

Back vowels have low F2 frequencies, while front vowels have high F2 frequencies. Vowel_sentence_124

This is very clear in the spectrogram, where the front vowel [i] has a much higher F2 frequency than the other two vowels. Vowel_sentence_125

However, in open vowels, the high F1 frequency forces a rise in the F2 frequency as well, so an alternative measure of frontness is the difference between the first and second formants. Vowel_sentence_126

For this reason, some people prefer to plot as F1 vs. F2 – F1. Vowel_sentence_127

(This dimension is usually called 'backness' rather than 'frontness', but the term 'backness' can be counterintuitive when discussing formants.) Vowel_sentence_128

In the third edition of his textbook, Peter Ladefoged recommended using plots of F1 against F2 – F1 to represent vowel quality. Vowel_sentence_129

However, in the fourth edition, he changed to adopt a simple plot of F1 against F2, and this simple plot of F1 against F2 was maintained for the fifth (and final) edition of the book. Vowel_sentence_130

Katrina Hayward compares the two types of plots and concludes that plotting of F1 against F2 – F1 "is not very satisfactory because of its effect on the placing of the central vowels", so she also recommends use of a simple plot of F1 against F2. Vowel_sentence_131

In fact, this kind of plot of F1 against F2 has been used by analysts to show the quality of the vowels in a wide range of languages, including RP, the Queen's English, American English, Singapore English, Brunei English, North Frisian, Turkish Kabardian, and various indigenous Australian languages. Vowel_sentence_132

R-colored vowels are characterized by lowered F3 values. Vowel_sentence_133

Rounding is generally realized by a decrease of F2 that tends to reinforce vowel backness. Vowel_sentence_134

One effect of this is that back vowels are most commonly rounded while front vowels are most commonly unrounded; another is that rounded vowels tend to plot to the right of unrounded vowels in vowel charts. Vowel_sentence_135

That is, there is a reason for plotting vowel pairs the way they are. Vowel_sentence_136

Prosody and intonation Vowel_section_14

Main articles: Prosody, Intonation, and Vowel length Vowel_sentence_137

In addition to variation in vowel quality as described above, vowels vary as a result of differences in prosody. Vowel_sentence_138

The most important prosodic variables are pitch (fundamental frequency), loudness (intensity) and length (duration). Vowel_sentence_139

However, the features of prosody are usually considered to apply not to the vowel itself, but to the syllable in which the vowel occurs. Vowel_sentence_140

In other words, the domain of prosody is the syllable, not the segment (vowel or consonant). Vowel_sentence_141

We can list briefly the effect of prosody on the vowel component of a syllable. Vowel_sentence_142


  • Pitch: in the case of a syllable such as 'cat', the only voiced portion of the syllable is the vowel, so the vowel carries the pitch information. This may relate to the syllable in which it occurs, or to a larger stretch of speech to which an intonation contour belongs. In a word such as 'man', all the segments in the syllable are sonorant and all will participate in any pitch variation.Vowel_item_4_17
  • Loudness: this variable has been traditionally associated with linguistic stress, though other factors are usually involved in this. Lehiste (ibid) argues that stress, or loudness, could not be associated with a single segment in a syllable independently of the rest of the syllable (p. 147). This means that vowel loudness is a concomitant of the loudness of the syllable in which it occurs.Vowel_item_4_18
  • Length: it is important to distinguish two aspects of vowel length. One is the phonological difference in length exhibited by some languages. Japanese, Finnish, Hungarian, Arabic and Latin have a two-way phonemic contrast between short and long vowels. The Mixe language has a three-way contrast among short, half-long, and long vowels. The other type of length variation in vowels is non-distinctive, and is the result of prosodic variation in speech: vowels tend to be lengthened when in a stressed syllable, or when utterance rate is slow.Vowel_item_4_19

Monophthongs, diphthongs, triphthongs Vowel_section_15

Main articles: Monophthong, Diphthong, Triphthong, and Semivowel Vowel_sentence_143

A vowel sound whose quality does not change over the duration of the vowel is called a monophthong. Vowel_sentence_144

Monophthongs are sometimes called "pure" or "stable" vowels. Vowel_sentence_145

A vowel sound that glides from one quality to another is called a diphthong, and a vowel sound that glides successively through three qualities is a triphthong. Vowel_sentence_146

All languages have monophthongs and many languages have diphthongs, but triphthongs or vowel sounds with even more target qualities are relatively rare cross-linguistically. Vowel_sentence_147

English has all three types: the vowel sound in hit is a monophthong /ɪ/, the vowel sound in boy is in most dialects a diphthong /ɔɪ/, and the vowel sounds of flower, /aʊər/, form a triphthong or disyllable, depending on dialect. Vowel_sentence_148

In phonology, diphthongs and triphthongs are distinguished from sequences of monophthongs by whether the vowel sound may be analyzed into different phonemes or not. Vowel_sentence_149

For example, the vowel sounds in a two-syllable pronunciation of the word flower (/ˈflaʊər/) phonetically form a disyllabic triphthong, but are phonologically a sequence of a diphthong (represented by the letters ⟨ow⟩) and a monophthong (represented by the letters ⟨er⟩). Vowel_sentence_150

Some linguists use the terms diphthong and triphthong only in this phonemic sense. Vowel_sentence_151

Written vowels Vowel_section_16

Main article: Writing system Vowel_sentence_152

The name "vowel" is often used for the symbols that represent vowel sounds in a language's writing system, particularly if the language uses an alphabet. Vowel_sentence_153

In writing systems based on the Latin alphabet, the letters A, E, I, O, U, Y, W and sometimes others can all be used to represent vowels. Vowel_sentence_154

However, not all of these letters represent the vowels in all languages that use this writing, or even consistently within one language. Vowel_sentence_155

Some of them, especially W and Y, are also used to represent approximant consonants. Vowel_sentence_156

Moreover, a vowel might be represented by a letter usually reserved for consonants, or a combination of letters, particularly where one letter represents several sounds at once, or vice versa; examples from English include igh in "thigh" and x in "x-ray". Vowel_sentence_157

In addition, extensions of the Latin alphabet have such independent vowel letters as Ä, Ö, Ü, Å, Æ, and Ø. Vowel_sentence_158

The phonetic values vary considerably by language, and some languages use I and Y for the consonant [j], e.g., initial I in Italian or Romanian and initial Y in English. Vowel_sentence_159

In the original Latin alphabet, there was no written distinction between V and U, and the letter represented the approximant [w] and the vowels [u] and [ʊ]. Vowel_sentence_160

In Modern Welsh, the letter W represents these same sounds. Vowel_sentence_161

Similarly, in Creek, the letter V stands for [ə]. Vowel_sentence_162

There is not necessarily a direct one-to-one correspondence between the vowel sounds of a language and the vowel letters. Vowel_sentence_163

Many languages that use a form of the Latin alphabet have more vowel sounds than can be represented by the standard set of five vowel letters. Vowel_sentence_164

In English spelling, the five letters A E I O and U can represent a variety of vowel sounds, while the letter Y frequently represents vowels (as in e.g., "gym", "happy", or the diphthongs in "cry", "thyme"); W is used in representing some diphthongs (as in "cow") and to represent a monophthong in the borrowed words "" and "" (sometimes cruth). Vowel_sentence_165

Other languages cope with the limitation in the number of Latin vowel letters in similar ways. Vowel_sentence_166

Many languages make extensive use of combinations of letters to represent various sounds. Vowel_sentence_167

Other languages use vowel letters with modifications, such as ä in Swedish, or add diacritical marks, like umlauts, to vowels to represent the variety of possible vowel sounds. Vowel_sentence_168

Some languages have also constructed additional vowel letters by modifying the standard Latin vowels in other ways, such as æ or ø that are found in some of the Scandinavian languages. Vowel_sentence_169

The International Phonetic Alphabet has a set of 28 symbols to represent the range of basic vowel qualities, and a further set of diacritics to denote variations from the basic vowel. Vowel_sentence_170

The writing systems used for some languages, such as the Hebrew alphabet and the Arabic alphabet, do not ordinarily mark all the vowels, since they are frequently unnecessary in identifying a word. Vowel_sentence_171

Technically, these are called abjads rather than alphabets. Vowel_sentence_172

Although it is possible to construct simple English sentences that can be understood without written vowels (cn y rd ths? Vowel_sentence_173

), extended passages of English lacking written vowels can be difficult to understand; consider dd, which could be any of dad, dada, dado, dead, deed, did, died, diode, dodo, dud, dude, odd, add, or aided. Vowel_sentence_174

(But note that abjads generally express some word-internal vowels and all word-initial and word-final vowels, whereby the ambiguity will be much reduced.) Vowel_sentence_175

The Masoretes devised a vowel notation system for Hebrew Jewish scripture that is still widely used, as well as the trope symbols used for its cantillation; both are part of oral tradition and still the basis for many bible translations—Jewish and Christian. Vowel_sentence_176

Shifts Vowel_section_17

The differences in pronunciation of vowel letters between English and its related languages can be accounted for by the Great Vowel Shift. Vowel_sentence_177

After printing was introduced to England, and therefore after spelling was more or less standardized, a series of dramatic changes in the pronunciation of the vowel phonemes did occur, and continued into recent centuries, but were not reflected in the spelling system. Vowel_sentence_178

This has led to numerous inconsistencies in the spelling of English vowel sounds and the pronunciation of English vowel letters (and to the mispronunciation of foreign words and names by speakers of English). Vowel_sentence_179

Audio samples Vowel_section_18

Systems Vowel_section_19

The importance of vowels in distinguishing one word from another varies from language to language. Vowel_sentence_180

Nearly all languages have at least three phonemic vowels, usually /i/, /a/, /u/ as in Classical Arabic and Inuktitut, though Adyghe and many Sepik languages have a vertical vowel system of /ɨ/, /ə/, /a/. Vowel_sentence_181

Very few languages have fewer, though some Arrernte, Circassian, Ndu languages have been argued to have just two, /ə/ and /a/, with [ɨ] being epenthetic. Vowel_sentence_182

It is not straightforward to say which language has the most vowels, since that depends on how they are counted. Vowel_sentence_183

For example, long vowels, nasal vowels, and various phonations may or may not be counted separately; indeed, it may sometimes be unclear if phonation belongs to the vowels or the consonants of a language. Vowel_sentence_184

If such things are ignored and only vowels with dedicated IPA letters ('vowel qualities') are considered, then very few languages have more than ten. Vowel_sentence_185

The Germanic languages have some of the largest inventories: Standard Danish has 11 to 13 short vowels (/(a) ɑ (ɐ) e ə ɛ i o ɔ u ø œ y/), while the Amstetten dialect of Bavarian has been reported to have thirteen long vowels: /i y e ø ɛ œ æ ɶ a ɒ ɔ o u/. Vowel_sentence_186

The situation can be quite disparate within a same family language: Spanish and French are two closely related Romance languages but Spanish has only five pure vowel qualities, /a, e, i, o, u/, while classical French has eleven: /a, ɑ, e, ɛ, i, o, ɔ, u, y, œ, ø/ and four nasal vowels /ɑ̃/, /ɛ̃/, /ɔ̃/ and /œ̃/. Vowel_sentence_187

The Mon–Khmer languages of Southeast Asia also have some large inventories, such as the eleven vowels of Vietnamese: /i e ɛ ɐ a ə ɔ ɤ o ɯ u/. Vowel_sentence_188

Wu dialects have the largest inventories of Chinese; the Jinhui dialect of Wu has also been reported to have eleven vowels: ten basic vowels, /i y e ø ɛ ɑ ɔ o u ɯ/, plus restricted /ɨ/; this does not count the seven nasal vowels. Vowel_sentence_189

One of the most common vowels is [a̠]; it is nearly universal for a language to have at least one open vowel, though most dialects of English have an [æ] and a [ɑ]—and often an [ɒ], all open vowels—but no central [a]. Vowel_sentence_190

Some Tagalog and Cebuano speakers have [ɐ] rather than [a], and Dhangu Yolngu is described as having /ɪ ɐ ʊ/, without any peripheral vowels. Vowel_sentence_191

[i] is also extremely common, though Tehuelche has just the vowels /e a o/ with no close vowels. Vowel_sentence_192

The third vowel of Arabic-type three-vowel system, /u/, is considerably less common. Vowel_sentence_193

A large fraction of the languages of North America happen to have a four-vowel system without /u/: /i, e, a, o/; Nahuatl and Navajo are examples. Vowel_sentence_194

In most languages, vowels serve mainly to distinguish separate lexemes, rather than different inflectional forms of the same lexeme as they commonly do in the Semitic languages. Vowel_sentence_195

For example, while English man becomes men in the plural, moon is a completely different word. Vowel_sentence_196

Words without vowels Vowel_section_20

See also: English words without vowels Vowel_sentence_197

In rhotic dialects of English, as in Canada and the United States, there are many words such as bird, learn, girl, church, worst, wyrm, myrrh that some phoneticians analyze as having no vowels, only a syllabic consonant /ɹ̩/. Vowel_sentence_198

However, others analyze these words instead as having a rhotic vowel, /ɝː/. Vowel_sentence_199

The difference may be partially one of dialect. Vowel_sentence_200

There are a few such words that are disyllabic, like , curtain, and turtle: [ˈkɹ̩sɹ̩], [ˈkɹ̩tn̩] and [ˈtɹ̩tl̩] (or [ˈkɝːsɚ], [ˈkɝːtən], and [ˈtɝːtəl]), and even a few that are trisyllabic, at least in some accents, such as purpler [ˈpɹ̩.pl̩.ɹ̩], hurdler [ˈhɹ̩.dl̩.ɹ̩], gurgler [ˈɡɹ̩.ɡl̩.ɹ̩], and certainer [ˈsɹ̩.tn̩.ɹ̩]. Vowel_sentence_201

The word and frequently contracts to a simple nasal ’n, as in lock 'n key [ˌlɒk ŋ ˈkiː]. Vowel_sentence_202

Words such as will, have, and is regularly contract to ’ll [l], ’ve [v], and 's [z]. Vowel_sentence_203

However, none of them are pronounced alone without vowels, so they are not phonological words. Vowel_sentence_204

Onomatopoeic words that can be pronounced alone, and that have no vowels or ars, include hmm, pst!, shh!, tsk!, and zzz. Vowel_sentence_205

As in other languages, onomatopoeiae stand outside the normal phonotactics of English. Vowel_sentence_206

There are other languages that form lexical words without vowel sounds. Vowel_sentence_207

In Serbo-Croatian, for example, the consonants [r] and [rː] (the difference is not written) can act as a syllable nucleus and carry rising or falling tone; examples include the tongue-twister na vrh brda vrba mrda and geographic names such as Krk. Vowel_sentence_208

In Czech and Slovak, either [l] or [r] can stand in for vowels: vlk [vl̩k] "wolf", krk [kr̩k] "neck". Vowel_sentence_209

A particularly long word without vowels is čtvrthrst, meaning "quarter-handful", with two syllables (one for each R). Vowel_sentence_210

Whole sentences can be made from such words, such as Strč prst skrz krk, meaning "stick a finger through your neck" (pronounced [str̩tʃ pr̩st skr̩s kr̩k (listen)), and Smrž pln skvrn zvlhl z mlh "A morel full of spots wetted from fogs". Vowel_sentence_211

(Here zvlhl has two syllables based on L; note that the preposition z consists of a single consonant. Vowel_sentence_212

Only prepositions do this in Czech, and they normally link phonetically to the following noun, so do not really behave as vowelless words.) Vowel_sentence_213

In Russian, there are also prepositions that consist of a single consonant letter, like k "to", v "in", and s "with". Vowel_sentence_214

However, these forms are actually contractions of ko, vo, and so respectively, and these forms are still used in modern Russian before words with certain consonant clusters for ease of pronunciation. Vowel_sentence_215

In Kazakh and certain other Turkic languages, words without vowel sounds may occur due to reduction of weak vowels. Vowel_sentence_216

A common example is the Kazakh word for one: bir, pronounced [br]. Vowel_sentence_217

Among careful speakers, however, the original vowel may be preserved, and the vowels are always preserved in the orthography. Vowel_sentence_218

In Southern varieties of Chinese, such as Cantonese and Minnan, some monosyllabic words are made of exclusively nasals, such as [m̩˨˩] "no" and [ŋ̩˩˧] "five". Vowel_sentence_219

So far, all of these syllabic consonants, at least in the lexical words, have been sonorants, such as [r], [l], [m], and [n], which have a voiced quality similar to vowels. Vowel_sentence_220

(They can carry tone, for example.) Vowel_sentence_221

However, there are languages with lexical words that not only contain no vowels, but contain no sonorants at all, like (non-lexical) shh! Vowel_sentence_222

in English. Vowel_sentence_223

These include some Berber languages and some languages of the American Pacific Northwest, such as Nuxalk. Vowel_sentence_224

An example from the latter is scs "seal fat" (pronounced [sxs, as spelled), and a longer one is clhp'xwlhtlhplhhskwts' (pronounced [xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ) "he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant". Vowel_sentence_225

(Follow the Nuxalk link for other examples.) Vowel_sentence_226

Berber examples include /tkkststt/ "you took it off" and /tfktstt/ "you gave it". Vowel_sentence_227

Some words may contain one or two consonants only: /ɡ/ "be", /ks/ "feed on". Vowel_sentence_228

(In Mandarin Chinese, words and syllables such as sī and zhī are sometimes described as being syllabic fricatives and affricates phonemically, /ś/ and /tʂ́/, but these do have a voiced segment that carries the tone.) Vowel_sentence_229

In the Japonic language Miyako, there are words with no voiced sounds, such as ss 'dust', kss 'breast/milk', pss 'day', ff 'a comb', kff 'to make', fks 'to build', ksks 'month', sks 'to cut', psks 'to pull'. Vowel_sentence_230

Words consisting of only vowels Vowel_section_21

It is not uncommon for short grammatical words to consist of only vowels, such as a and I in English. Vowel_sentence_231

Lexical words are somewhat rarer in English and are generally restricted to a single syllable: eye, awe, owe, and in non-rhotic accents air, ore, err. Vowel_sentence_232

Vowel-only words of more than one syllable are generally foreign loans, such as ai (two syllables: /ˈɑːi/) for the maned sloth, or proper names, such as Iowa (in some accents: /ˈaɪ.oʊ.ə/). Vowel_sentence_233

However, vowel sequences in hiatus are more freely allowed in some other languages, most famously perhaps in Bantu and Polynesian languages, but also in Japanese and Finnic languages. Vowel_sentence_234

In such languages there tends to be a larger variety of vowel-only words. Vowel_sentence_235

In Swahili (Bantu), for example, there is 'to survey' and 'to purify' (both three syllables); in Japanese, 青い 'blue/green' and oioi 追々 'gradually' (three and four syllables); and in Finnish, aie 'intention' and auo 'open!' Vowel_sentence_236

(both two syllables), although some dialects pronounce them as aije and auvo. Vowel_sentence_237

Hawaiian, and the Polynesian languages generally, have unusually large numbers of such words, such as aeāea (a small green fish), which is three syllables: ae.āe.a. Vowel_sentence_238

Most long words involve reduplication, which is quite productive in Polynesian: ioio 'grooves', eaea 'breath', uaua 'tough' (all four syllables), auēuē 'crying' (five syllables, from uē (uwē) 'to weep'), uoa or uouoa 'false mullet' (sp. fish, three or five syllables). Vowel_sentence_239

The longest continuous vowel sequence is in the Finnish word hääyöaie ("wedding night intention"). Vowel_sentence_240

See also Vowel_section_22


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vowel.