Open back unrounded vowel

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Open back unrounded vowel
IPA number 305
Entity (decimal) ɑ
Unicode (hex) U+0251
Kirshenbaum A
Braille ⠡ (braille pattern dots-16)

The open back unrounded vowel, or low back unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ɑ, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is A. The letter ɑ is called script a because it lacks the extra hook on top of a printed letter a, which corresponds to a different vowel, the open front unrounded vowel. Script a, which has its linear stroke on the bottom right, should not be confused with turned script a, ɒ, which has its linear stroke on the top left and corresponds to a rounded version of this vowel, the open back rounded vowel.

The Hamont dialect of Limburgish has been reported to contrast long open front, central and back unrounded vowels,[1] 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,[who?] 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
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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 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.
  • It is unrounded, which means that the lips are not rounded.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Afrikaans Standard[2][3] daar [dɑːr] 'there' See Afrikaans phonology
Angor ape [ɑpe] 'father'
Arabic Standard[4] طويل [tˤɑˈwiːl] 'tall' Allophone of long and short /a/ near emphatic consonants, depending on the speaker's accent. See Arabic phonology
Armenian Eastern[4] հաց [hɑt͡sʰ] 'bread'
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic Tyari dialects baba [bɑːba] 'father' Corresponds to [a ~ ä] in other varieties.
Chinese Mandarin /bàng About this sound [pɑŋ˥˩]  'stick' Allophone of /a/ before /ŋ/. See Standard Chinese phonology
Danish[5] Conservative[6] barn [ˈb̥ɑːˀn] 'child' Described variously as open near-back[5] and near-open back.[6] Realized as open central [ä] in contemporary Standard Danish.[7][8][9][10][11] See Danish phonology
Dutch Amsterdam[12] aap [ɑːp] 'monkey' Corresponds to [ ~ äː] in standard Dutch.
Southern Randstad[14] bad [bɑt] 'bath' Backness varies among dialects; in the southern Randstad and standard Netherlandic Dutch it is fully back.[15][16] In addition to being fully back, it is raised to [ɑ̝] in Leiden and Rotterdam, sometimes with lip rounding [ɒ̝].[15] In standard Belgian Dutch it is raised and fronted to [ɑ̝̈].[17] See Dutch phonology
The Hague[18] nauw [nɑː] 'narrow' Corresponds to [ʌu] in standard Dutch.
English Cardiff[19] hot [hɑ̝̈t] 'hot' Somewhat raised and fronted.
General American[21] [hɑt] May be more front [ɑ̟ ~ ä], especially in accents without the cot-caught merger. See English phonology
Cockney[22] bath [bɑːθ] 'bath' Fully back. It can be more front [ɑ̟ː] instead.
South African[23]
Fully back. Broad varieties usually produce a rounded vowel [ɒː ~ ɔː] instead, while Cultivated SAE prefers a more front vowel [ɑ̟ː ~ äː].
South African[24]
[bɑ̟ːθ] Typically more front than cardinal [ɑ]. It may be as front as [äː] in some Cultivated South African and southern English speakers. See English phonology
Received Pronunciation[25]
Non-local Dublin[26] back [bɑq] 'back' Allophone of /æ/ before velars for some speakers.[26]
Estonian[27] vale [ˈvɑ̝lɛˑ] 'wrong' Near-open.[27] See Estonian phonology
Finnish[28] kana [ˈkɑ̝nɑ̝] 'hen' Near-open,[28] also described as open central [ä].[29] See Finnish phonology
French Conservative Parisian[30] pas [pɑ] 'not' Contrasts with [a], but many speakers have only one open vowel [ä]. See French phonology
Quebec pâte [pɑːt] 'paste' See Quebec French phonology
Georgian[31] გუდ [ɡudɑ] 'leather bag'
German Some dialects Tag [tʰɑːk] 'day' In other dialects it is more front. See German phonology.
Zurich dialect[32] mane [ˈmɑːnə] 'remind' Allophone of /ɒ/, in free variation with [ɒ].[32]
Inuit West Greenlandic[33] [example needed] Allophone of /a/ before and especially between uvulars.[33] See Inuit phonology
Kaingang[34] [ˈᵑɡɑ] 'terra' Varies between back [ɑ] and central [ɐ].[35]
Limburgish[1][36][37][38] bats [bɑts] 'buttock' Backness varies from fully back [ɑ] to almost central [ɑ̟], depending on the dialect. The example word is from the Maastrichtian dialect.[38]
Luxembourgish[39] Kapp [kʰɑ̝pʰ] 'head' Fully back and raised.[39] See Luxembourgish phonology
Malay Kedah dialect[40] mata [matɑ] 'eye' See Malay phonology
Navajo ashkii [ɑʃkɪː] 'boy' See Navajo phonology
Norwegian Fredrikstad[41] hat [hɑːt] 'hate' See Norwegian phonology
Plautdietsch Gott [ɡɑ̽t] 'God'
Russian[43] палка [ˈpɑɫkə] 'stick' Occurs only both before /ɫ/ and after an unpalatalized consonant. See Russian phonology
Slovak[44][45] a [ɑ̟] 'and' Near-back; possible realization of /a/.[44][46] See Slovak phonology
Swedish Some dialects jаg [jɑːɡ] 'I' Weakly rounded [ɒ̜ː] in Central Standard Swedish.[47] See Swedish phonology
Turkish[48] at [ɑt̪] 'horse' Also described as central [ä].[49] See Turkish phonology
Ukrainian мати [ˈmɑtɪ] 'mother' See Ukrainian phonology
West Frisian lang [ɫɑŋ] 'long'

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Verhoeven (2007), p. 221.
  2. ^ Lass (1984), pp. 76, 93–94 and 105.
  3. ^ Donaldson (1993), p. 7.
  4. ^ a b Thelwall & Sa'Adeddin (1990), p. 39.
  5. ^ a b Fischer-Jørgensen (1972)
  6. ^ a b Ladefoged & Johnson (2010:227)
  7. ^ Grønnum (1998:100)
  8. ^ Grønnum (2005:268)
  9. ^ Grønnum (2003)
  10. ^ Basbøll (2005:46)
  11. ^ Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2000:17)
  12. ^ Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 78, 104 and 133.
  13. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 104 and 133.
  14. ^ Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 96 and 131.
  15. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 131.
  16. ^ a b Gussenhoven (1992), p. 47.
  17. ^ a b Verhoeven (2005), p. 245.
  18. ^ Collins & Mees (2003), p. 136.
  19. ^ Coupland (1990), p. 95.
  20. ^ Lodge (2009), p. 168.
  21. ^ Mannell, Cox & Harrington (2009).
  22. ^ Wells (1982), p. 305.
  23. ^ Lass (2002), p. 117.
  24. ^ Lass (2002), p. 116-117.
  25. ^ Roach (2004), p. 242.
  26. ^ a b "Glossary". Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  27. ^ a b Asu & Teras (2009:368)
  28. ^ a b Suomi, Toivanen & Ylitalo (2008), p. 21.
  29. ^ Maddieson (1984), cited in Suomi, Toivanen & Ylitalo (2008:21)
  30. ^ Ashby (2011), p. 100.
  31. ^ Shosted & Chikovani (2006), pp. 261–262.
  32. ^ a b Fleischer & Schmid (2006), p. 248.
  33. ^ a b Fortescue (1990), p. 317.
  34. ^ Jolkesky (2009), pp. 676–677 and 682.
  35. ^ Jolkesky (2009), pp. 676 and 682.
  36. ^ Peters (2006), p. 119.
  37. ^ Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998), p. 110.
  38. ^ a b Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), p. 159.
  39. ^ a b Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 70.
  40. ^ Zaharani Ahmad (1991).
  41. ^ a b Vanvik (1979), p. 16.
  42. ^ Vanvik (1979), p. 17.
  43. ^ Jones & Ward (1969), p. 50.
  44. ^ a b Kráľ (1988:54)
  45. ^ Pavlík (2004:95)
  46. ^ Pavlík (2004:94–95)
  47. ^ Engstrand (1999), p. 141.
  48. ^ Göksel & Kerslake (2005), p. 10.
  49. ^ Zimmer & Orgun (1999), p. 155.