Mid vowel

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A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel. The only mid vowel with a dedicated symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet is the mid central vowel [ə], a symbol which is also used for the vowel schwa.

The IPA divides the vowel space into thirds, with the close-mid vowels such as [e] or [o] and the open-mid vowels such as [ɛ] or [ɔ] equidistant in formant space between open [a] and close [i] or [u]. Thus a true mid front vowel could be transcribed as either a lowered [e̞] or a raised [ɛ̝].

Few languages contrast all three heights of mid vowel, because it is rare for a language to distinguish more than four heights of true front or back vowels. One, the Amstetten dialect of Austro-Bavarian, contrasts four heights of front unrounded, front rounded, and back vowels in addition to having an open central vowel. These have been transcribed with the available IPA symbols /i e ɛ æ/, /y ø œ ɶ/, /u o ɔ ɑ/, and /a/.

Amstetten Bavarian
Close i y u
Close-mid e ø o
Open-mid ɛ œ ɔ
Near open æ ɶ̝ ɑ̝
Open a

However, the vowels transcribed /æ ɶ ɑ/ are one-third the distance between open /a/ and close /i y u/, precisely the IPA definition of open-mid vowels [ɛ œ ɔ]. Thus Amstetten Bavarian may be an example of a language that contrasts mid vowels with both open-mid and close-mid vowels.

Amstetten Bavarian
(formant space)
Close i y u
Close-mid e ø o
Mid ø̞
Open-mid ɛ œ ɔ
Open a

The Kensiu language spoken in Malaysia and Thailand is highly unusual in that it contrasts true-mid vowels with close-mid and open-mid vowels without differences in other parameters such as backness or roundedness.

Vowel phonemes (Oral)
Front Central Back
Close i ɯ u
Near-close ɪ
Close-mid ɚ
Mid e ə o
Open-mid ɛ ʌ ɔ
Open a
Diphthongs ie
Vowel phonemes (Nasal)
Front Central Back
Close ĩ ɯ̃ ũ
Near-close ɪ̃
Close-mid ẽ̝ õ̝
Mid õ
Open-mid ɛ̃ ʌ̃ ɔ̃
Open ã
Diphthongs ĩẽ

See also[edit]