Back vowel

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A back vowel is any in a class of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark vowels because they are perceived as sounding darker than the front vowels.[1]


In their articulation, back vowels do not form a single category, but may be either raised vowels such as [u] or retracted vowels such as [ɑ].[2]

Unrounded back vowels are typically centralized, that is, near-back in their articulation. This is one reason they are written to the left of rounded back vowels in the IPA vowel chart.

Partial list[edit]

The back vowels that have dedicated symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet are:

There also are back vowels that don't have dedicated symbols in the IPA:

As here, other back vowels can be transcribed with diacritics of relative articulation applied to letters for neighboring vowels, such as , or ʊ̟ for a near-close back rounded vowel.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tsur, Reuven (February 1992). The Poetic Mode of Speech Perception. Duke University Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8223-1170-6. 
  2. ^ Scott Moisik, Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins, & John H. Esling (2012) "The Epilaryngeal Articulator: A New Conceptual Tool for Understanding Lingual-Laryngeal Contrasts"