Close back rounded vowel

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Close back rounded vowel
IPA number 308
Entity (decimal) u
Unicode (hex) U+0075
Kirshenbaum u

The close back rounded vowel, or high back rounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is u, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is u.

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".

In most languages this rounded vowel is pronounced with protruded lips ('endolabial'). However, in a few cases the lips are compressed ('exolabial').

The close back rounded vowel is almost identical featurally to the labio-velar approximant [w]. [u] alternates with [w] in certain languages, such as French, and in the diphthongs of some languages, [u̯] with the non-syllabic diacritic and [w] are used in different transcription systems to represent the same sound.

Close back protruded vowel[edit]

In most languages, close back rounded vowels are pronounced with protruded lips.


IPA vowel chart
Front Near-​front Central Near-​back Back
Blank vowel trapezoid.svg
Paired vowels are: unrounded • rounded
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  • Its vowel height is close, also known as high, which means the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.
  • Its vowel backness is back, which means the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Note that unrounded back vowels tend to be centralized, which means that often they are in fact near-back.
  • Its roundedness is protruded, which means that the corners of the lips are drawn together, and the inner surfaces exposed.


Note: Because back rounded vowels are assumed to have protrusion, and few descriptions cover the distinction, some of the following may actually have compression.

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Adyghe дунaй [dunaj] 'world'
Albanian guri [ˈguɾi] 'the rock'
Arabic Standard[1] جنوب [d͡ʒaˈnuːb] 'south' See Arabic phonology
Armenian Eastern[2] դուռ [dur] 'door'
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic guda [guːda] 'wall'
Bavarian Amstetten dialect[3] [example needed]
Bengali তুমি [tumi] 'you' See Bengali phonology
Catalan[4] suc [s̺uk] 'juice' See Catalan phonology
Chinese Cantonese /gu1 [kuː] 'mushroom' See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin /kū About this sound [kʰu˥]  'to cry' See Standard Chinese phonology
Czech u About this sound [u]  'at' See Czech phonology
Danish Standard[5][6][7][8][9][10] du [d̥u] 'you' See Danish phonology
Dutch Belgian[11] voet [vu̟t] 'foot' More front in Belgium. See Dutch phonology
Netherlandic[12] About this sound [vut] 
English Cultivated South African[13] boot [bu̟ːt] 'boot' Typically more front than cardinal [u]. Instead of being back, it may be central [ʉː] in Geordie and RP, and front [] in Multicultural London. See English phonology
General American[14]
Multicultural London[16]
Received Pronunciation[17]
Pakistani[19] [buːʈ]
Estonian[20] sule [ˈsulɛ] 'feather (gen. sg.)' See Estonian phonology
Faroese ur [uːɹ] 'watch'
Finnish[21][22] kukka [ˈkukːɑ] 'flower' See Finnish phonology
French[23] About this sound [u̹]  'where' See French phonology
Georgian[24] და [ɡudɑ] 'leather bag'
German Standard[25] Fuß About this sound [fuːs]  'foot' See German phonology
Greek ουρανός/uranόs [ˌuraˈno̞s̠] 'sky' See Modern Greek phonology
Hebrew תמונה [tmuna] 'image' Hebrew vowels are not shown in the script, see Niqqud and Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustani اردو / उर्दू [ˈʊrd̪u] 'Urdu' See Hindustani phonology
Hungarian[26] unalmas [ˈunɒlmɒʃ] 'boring' See Hungarian phonology
Icelandic[27][28][29] þú [θ̠u] 'you' See Icelandic phonology
Irish gasúr [ˈɡasˠuːɾˠ] 'boy' See Irish phonology
Italian[30] tutta [ˈt̪ut̪t̪ä] 'all' (sing. fem.) See Italian phonology
Kabardian дуней [dunej] 'world'
Kaingang[31] [ˈndukːi] 'in the belly'
Limburgish[32][33][34][35] sjoen [ʃun] 'beautiful' Back[34][35] or near-back,[32][33] depending on the dialect. The example word is from the Maastrichtian dialect.
Luxembourgish[36] Luucht [luːχt] 'light'
Macedonian уста [ˈus̪t̪ä] 'mouth' See Macedonian phonology
Malay bulan [bulan] 'moon'
Mongolian[37] үүр [uːɾɘ̆] 'nest'
North Frisian bru [bru] 'bridge'
Polish[38] buk About this sound [buk]  'beech tree' Also represented by ó. See Polish phonology
Portuguese European[39] urso [ˈuɾsu] 'bear' See Portuguese phonology
Brazilian[40] [ˈuʁsʊ]
Punjabi ਊਠ [uːʈʰ] 'camel'
Romanian unu [ˈun̪u] 'one' See Romanian phonology
Russian[41] узкий About this sound [ˈus̪kʲɪj]  'narrow' See Russian phonology
Scottish Gaelic gu [ɡu] 'to' See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Serbo-Croatian жут / žut [ʒut̪] 'yellow' See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Shiwiar[42] [example needed]
Slovak[43] ruka [ˈrukä] 'arm' Backness varies between back and near-back; most commonly, it is realized as near-close [ʊ] instead.[44] See Slovak phonology
Spanish[45] curable [kuˈɾäβ̞le̞̞] 'curable' See Spanish phonology
Thai[46] สุด [sut˨˩] 'rearmost'
Turkish[47][48] uzak [uˈz̪äc] 'far' See Turkish phonology
Udmurt[49] урэтэ [urete] 'to divide'
Ukrainian Умань [ˈumɐnʲ] 'Uman' See Ukrainian phonology
Vietnamese tu [tu] 'to practice asceticism' See Vietnamese phonology
West Frisian sûch [suːχ] 'sow'
Yoruba[50] [example needed]
Zapotec Tilquiapan[51] gdu [ɡdu] 'all'

Close back compressed vowel[edit]

Close back compressed vowel

Some languages, such as Japanese (About this sound listen ) and Swedish, are found with a close back vowel that has a distinct type of rounding, called compressed or exolabial.[52] No language is known to contrast this with the more typical protruded (endolabial) close back vowel.

There is no dedicated diacritic for compression in the IPA. However, the compression of the lips can be shown with the letter β as ɯ͡β̞ (simultaneous [ɯ] and labial compression) or ɯᵝ ([ɯ] modified with labial compression). The spread-lip diacritic   ͍ may also be used with a rounded vowel letter as an ad hoc symbol, though technically 'spread' means unrounded.


  • Its vowel height is close, which means the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.
  • Its vowel backness is back, which means the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.
  • Its roundedness is compressed, which means that the margins of the lips approach one another, so that the inner surfaces are not exposed.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Hajong[citation needed] [example needed]
Japanese 空気/kūki About this sound [kɯ̟ᵝːki]  'air' Near-back. See Japanese phonology
Lizu[53] [Fmɯ̟ᵝ] 'feather' Near-back.[53]
Norwegian mot [mɯᵝːt] 'courage' See Norwegian phonology
Swedish Central Standard oro About this sound [ɯ̀β̞rɯβ̞]  'unease' Contrasts with a close central and close front compressed vowels in some Swea dialects

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thelwall & Sa'Adeddin (1990:38)
  2. ^ Dum-Tragut (2009:13)
  3. ^ Traunmüller (1982), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:290)
  4. ^ Carbonell & Llisterri (1992:54)
  5. ^ Grønnum (1998:100)
  6. ^ Grønnum (2005:268)
  7. ^ Grønnum (2003)
  8. ^ Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2000:17)
  9. ^ Ladefoged & Johnson (2010:227)
  10. ^ Basbøll (2005:46)
  11. ^ Verhoeven (2005:245)
  12. ^ Gussenhoven (1992:47)
  13. ^ Lass (2002:116)
  14. ^ Mannell, Cox & Harrington (2009)
  15. ^ Watt & Allen (2003:268)
  16. ^ Gimson (2014:91)
  17. ^ Roach (2004:242)
  18. ^ Coupland (1990:93-95, 135)
  19. ^ Mahboob & Ahmar (2004:1007)
  20. ^ Asu & Teras (2009:368)
  21. ^ Iivonen & Harnud (2005:60, 66)
  22. ^ Suomi, Toivanen & Ylitalo (2008:21)
  23. ^ Fougeron & Smith (1993:73)
  24. ^ Shosted & Chikovani (2006:261–262)
  25. ^ Kohler (1999:87), Mangold (2005:37)
  26. ^ Szende (1994:92)
  27. ^ Árnason (2011:60)
  28. ^ Einarsson (1945:10), cited in Gussmann (2011:73)
  29. ^ Haugen (1958:65)
  30. ^ Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004:119)
  31. ^ Jolkesky (2009:676–677 and 682)
  32. ^ a b Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999:159)
  33. ^ a b Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998:110)
  34. ^ a b Peters (2006:119)
  35. ^ a b Verhoeven (2007:221)
  36. ^ Gilles & Trouvain (2013:70)
  37. ^ Iivonen & Harnud (2005:62, 66–67)
  38. ^ Jassem (2003:105)
  39. ^ Cruz-Ferreira (1995:91)
  40. ^ Barbosa & Albano (2004:229)
  41. ^ Jones & Ward (1969:67)
  42. ^ Fast Mowitz (1975:2)
  43. ^ Pavlík (2004:95)
  44. ^ Pavlík (2004:93, 95)
  45. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003:256)
  46. ^ Tingsabadh & Abramson (1993:24)
  47. ^ Zimmer & Organ (1999:155)
  48. ^ Göksel & Kerslake (2005:11)
  49. ^ Iivonen & Harnud (2005:64, 68)
  50. ^ Bamgboṣe (1969:166)
  51. ^ Merrill (2008:109)
  52. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:295)
  53. ^ a b Chirkova & Chen (2013:78)