Open central unrounded vowel

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Open central unrounded vowel
IPA number 304 415
Entity (decimal) a​̈
Unicode (hex) U+0061 U+0308
X-SAMPA a_" or a_- or A_" or 6_o

The open central unrounded vowel, or low central unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in many spoken languages. While the International Phonetic Alphabet officially has no dedicated letter for this sound between front [a] and back [ɑ], it is normally written a. If precision is required, it can be specified by using diacritics, such as centralized ä or retracted , but this is not common.

Until recently, however, the letter a was officially used for the central vowel, and much of the existing body of work on phonetics reflects that. It is thus more common to use plain [a] for a central vowel, and to approximate an open front vowel, if needed, with [æ], officially near-open (near-low). Alternatively, Sinologists may use the unofficial symbol (small capital A). The IPA voted against officially adopting this symbol in 2011–2012.[1]

Limburgish dialect of Hamont has been reported to contrast open front, central and back unrounded vowels,[2] which is extremely unusual.

The IPA prefers terms "close" and "open" for vowels, and the name of the article follows this. However, a large number of linguists, perhaps a majority, prefer the terms "high" and "low".


IPA vowel chart
Front Near-​front Central Near-​back Back
Blank vowel trapezoid.svg
Paired vowels are: unrounded • rounded
This table contains phonetic symbols, which may not display correctly in some browsers. [Help]

IPA help • IPA key • chart • Loudspeaker.svg chart with audio • view
  • Its vowel height is open, also known as low, which means the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth – that is, as low as possible in the mouth.
  • Its vowel backness is central, which means the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel. This often subsumes open (low) front vowels, because the tongue does not have as much flexibility in positioning as it does for the close (high) vowels; the difference between an open front vowel and an open back vowel is equal to the difference between a close front and a close central vowel, or a close central and a close back vowel.
  • It is unrounded, which means that the lips are not rounded.


Most languages have some form of an unrounded open vowel. Because the IPA uses a for both front and central unrounded open vowels, it is not always clear whether a particular language uses the former or the latter.

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Adyghe дахэ About this sound [däːxä]  'pretty'
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic kalu [kʰälu] 'bride' May sound like [a] and [æ] in the Urmia, Nochiya and Jilu dialects. In the Tyari dialect, [ɑ] is usually used.
Bavarian Amstetten dialect[3] [example needed]
Bengali পা pa [pä] 'leg' See Bengali phonology
Catalan[4] sac [s̠äk] 'sack' See Catalan phonology
Chinese Cantonese saa1 [sä̝ː˥] 'sand' Somewhat raised. See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin tā [tʰä˥] 'he' See Mandarin phonology
Czech[5] Amerika [ˈämɛrɪkä] 'America' See Czech phonology
Danish Standard[6][7][8][9][10] barn [ˈb̥äːˀn] 'child' Most often transcribed ɑ - the way it is realized in the conservative variety.[11] See Danish phonology
Dutch Amsterdam[12] bad [bät] 'bath' Also present in many other non-Randstad accents.[12] It corresponds to [ɑ] in Standard Dutch. See Dutch phonology
Standard[14][15] zaal [zäːɫ] 'hall' Ranges from front to central;[16] in non-standard accents it may be back. See Dutch phonology
English Australian[17] car [kʰäː] 'car' See Australian English phonology
South African[19]
Some speakers. For others it's less front [ɑ̟ː].
South African[20]
time [tʰäːm] 'time' Corresponds to the diphthong /aɪ/ in most dialects. General South African speakers may also monophthongize /aʊ/. See English phonology
Southern American[21]
General American[22] cot [kʰäʔt̚] 'cot' It may be more back [ɑ̟ ~ ɑ], especially for speakers with the cot-caught merger. See English phonology
Southern Michigan[23] See English phonology
Central and Northern England path [päːθ] 'path' Remnants of the Trap-Bath split for some speakers, mainly across the border line of the Trap-Bath split, sometimes found in Yorkshire, Liverpool or Manchester.
Some speakers punk [päŋk] 'punk' Found in many speakers in Australia and in some speakers in South Africa and Southern England.
French[24] patte [pät̪] 'paw' See French phonology.
German Standard[25] Katze [ˈkʰät͡sə] 'cat' See German phonology
Hebrew[26] פח About this sound [päχ]   'garbage can' Hebrew vowels are not shown in the script, see Niqqud and Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustani माता / ماتا [mata] 'mother' See Hindustani phonology
Hungarian[27] láb [läːb] 'leg' See Hungarian phonology
Icelandic[28][29][30][31] fara [ˈfäːrä] 'go' See Icelandic phonology
Igbo[32] ákụ [ákú̙] 'kernal'
Italian[33] casa [ˈkäːzä] 'home' See Italian phonology
Japanese[34] ka About this sound [kä]   'mosquito' See Japanese phonology
Limburgish Hamont dialect[2] zaak [zäːk²] 'business' Contrasts with [a], [], [ɑ] and [ɑː].[2] See Hamont dialect phonology
Lithuanian namas [ˈnäːmäs] 'house'
Malay api [äpi] 'fire'
Norwegian Standard Eastern[35] hat [häːt̪] 'hate' May be transcribed /ɑː/, the way it's pronounced in some dialects. Some older speakers may use a front [] instead. See Norwegian phonology
Polish[36] kat About this sound [kät̪]  'executioner' See Polish phonology
Portuguese[37] vá [vä] 'go' See Portuguese phonology
Punjabi ਜਾ [d͡ʒäː] 'go!'
Romanian cal [käl] 'horse' See Romanian phonology
Russian там About this sound [t̪äm]  'there' See Russian phonology
Scottish Gaelic slat [slät] 'yard' See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Serbo-Croatian[38] патка / patka [pâ̠t̪ka̠] 'female duck' See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Spanish[39] rata [ˈrät̪ä] 'rat' See Spanish phonology
Swedish Central Standard[40] bank [bäŋk] 'bank' Also described as front [a].[41] See Swedish phonology
Turkish[42] at [ät̪] 'horse' See Turkish phonology
Vietnamese Hanoi xa [s̪äː] 'far' See Vietnamese phonology
West Frisian laad [ɫäːt] 'drawer'



Further reading[edit]

  • Barry, William; Trouvain, Jürgen (2008), "Do we need a symbol for a central open vowel?", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 38 (3): 349–357, doi:10.1017/s0025100308003587