Open front unrounded vowel

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Open front unrounded vowel
IPA number 304
Entity (decimal) a
Unicode (hex) U+0061
X-SAMPA a or a_+ or {_o
Kirshenbaum a

The open front unrounded vowel, or low front unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in many vocal languages. According to the official standards of the International Phonetic Association, the symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is a.

In practice, however, it is very common to approximate this sound with æ (officially a near-open (near-low) front unrounded vowel),[citation needed] and to use a as an open (low) central unrounded vowel. This is the normal 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, since the perceptual difference between the two is quite small, and very few, if any, languages contrast the two. See open central unrounded vowel for more information. If one needs to make it explicit that the vowel they're talking about is front, they can use symbols like [a̟] ([a] with "advanced" diactric), or [æ̞] (lowered [æ]), with the latter being more common.

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 front, which means the tongue is positioned as far forward as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Note that rounded front vowels are often centralized, which means that they're in fact near-front. This subsumes central open (central low) vowels because the tongue does not have as much flexibility in positioning as it does in the mid and close (high) vowels; the difference between an open front vowel and an open back vowel is similar 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.


Many languages have some form of an unrounded open vowel. For languages that have only a single low vowel, the symbol for this vowel a may be used because it is the only low 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 Levantine[1] بان [baːn] 'he/it appeared' See Arabic phonology
Bulgarian[2] най [n̪a̠j] 'most' Somewhat retracted.
Catalan Majorcan sac [sak] 'sack' Corresponds to [ä] in other varieties. See Catalan phonology
English Canadian[3] hat About this sound [hat]  'hat' Depending on the region, the quality may be anywhere from front [ɛ] to back [ɑ]. For the Canadian vowel, see Canadian Shift. See also English phonology
Northern English
Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg[4]
Modern RP speakers[5]
Southern English
Cockney[6][7] stuck [stak] 'stuck' Can be [ɐ̟] instead.
Inland Northern American[8] stock 'stock' Less front [ɑ ~ ä] in other American dialects. See Northern cities vowel shift
Local Dublin Less front [ɒ ~ ɑ] in Mainstream Dublin, open-mid rounded [ɔ] in New Dublin.
German Bernese drääje [ˈtræ̞ːjə] 'turn' See Bernese German phonology
Gujarati શાંતિ shanti [ʃant̪i] 'peace' See Gujarati phonology
Kabardian дахэ About this sound [daːxa]  'pretty'
Luxembourgish[9] Kap [kʰa̠ːpʰ] 'cap' Somewhat retracted.
North Frisian braan [braːn] 'to burn'
Norwegian Stavanger[10] hatt [hat] 'hat' Corresponds to [ä] in Standard Eastern Norwegian. See Norwegian phonology
Trondheim[11] lær [laːɾ] 'leather' Corresponds to [æː] in Standard Eastern Norwegian. See Norwegian phonology
Vest-Agder[12] hat [haːt] 'hate' Some dialects, in others it's more back. It corresponds to [äː] in Standard Eastern Norwegian. See Norwegian phonology
Polish[13] jajo About this sound [ˈjajɔ]  'egg' Fronted allophone of /a/ [ä] between palatal or palatalized consonants. See Polish phonology
Spanish Eastern Andalusian[14] las madres [læ̞(h) ˈmæ̞ːð̞ɾɛ(h)] 'the mothers' Corresponds to [ä] in other dialects, but in these dialects they're distinct. See Spanish phonology
Welsh mam [mam] 'mother' See Welsh phonology
Zapotec Tilquiapan[15] na [na] 'now'



  • Bekker, Ian (2008), The vowels of South African English 
  • Boberg, C. (2005), "The Canadian shift in Montreal", Language Variation and Change 17: 133–154 
  • Gilles, Peter; Trouvain, Jürgen (2013), "Luxembourgish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 43 (1): 67–74, doi:10.1017/S0025100312000278 
  • Hughes, Arthur; Trudgill, Peter (1979), English Accents and Dialects: An Introduction to Social and Regional Varieties of British English, Baltimore: University Park Press 
  • Jassem, Wiktor (2003), "Polish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 33 (1): 103–107, doi:10.1017/S0025100303001191 
  • Ladefoged, Peter (1999), "American English", Handbook of the International Phonetic Association (Cambridge Univ. Press): 41–44 
  • Merrill, Elizabeth (2008), "Tilquiapan Zapotec", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 38 (1): 107–114, doi:10.1017/S0025100308003344 
  • Ternes, Elmer; Vladimirova-Buhtz, Tatjana (1999), "Bulgarian", Handbook of the International Phonetic Association, Cambridge University Press, pp. 55–57, ISBN 0-521-63751-1 
  • Thelwall, Robin; Sa'Adeddin, M. Akram (1990), "Arabic", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 20 (2): 37–41, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004266 
  • Vanvik, Arne (1979), Norsk fonetik, Oslo: Universitetet i Oslo, ISBN 82-990584-0-6 
  • Wells, J.C. (1982), Accents of English, 2: The British Isles, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
  • Zamora Vicente, Alonso (1967), Dialectología española (2nd ed.), Biblioteca Romanica Hispanica, Editorial Gredos