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
Braille ⠁ (braille pattern dots-1)

The open front unrounded vowel, or low front unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. It is one of the eight primary cardinal vowels, not directly intended to correspond to a vowel sound of a specific language but rather to serve as a fundamental reference point in a phonetic measuring system.[1]

The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) that represents this sound is ⟨a⟩, and in the IPA vowel chart it is positioned at the lower-left corner. However, the accuracy of the quadrilateral vowel chart is disputed, and the sound has been analyzed acoustically as an extra-open/low unrounded central vowel at a position where the front/back distinction has lost its significance. There are also differing interpretations of the exact quality of the vowel: the classic sound recording of [a] by Daniel Jones is slightly more front but not quite as open as that by John Wells.[2]

In practice, it is considered normal by many phoneticians to use the symbol ⟨a⟩ for an open central unrounded vowel and instead approximate the open front unrounded vowel with ⟨æ⟩ (which officially signifies a near-open front unrounded vowel).[3] This is the usual 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, because the perceptual difference between the two is quite small, and very few languages contrast the two. If one needs to specify that the vowel is front, they can use symbols like ⟨⟩ (advanced [a]), or ⟨æ̞⟩ (lowered [æ]), with the latter being more common.

The Hamont dialect of Limburgish has been reported to contrast long open front, central and back unrounded vowels,[4] which is extremely unusual.


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 often they are 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 open vowel, the symbol for this vowel ⟨a⟩ may be used because it is the only open 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 Standard[5] أنا [anaː] 'I am' See Arabic phonology
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic la [laː] 'no' Widely present in Urmia and Jilu dialects. Corresponds to [ä] in most of the other varieties. In the Tyari dialect, [ɑ] is usually used.
Bulgarian[6] най [n̪a̠j] 'most' Near-front.[6]
Catalan Majorcan sac [sak] 'sack' Corresponds to [ä] in other varieties. See Catalan phonology
Chinese Mandarin /ān About this sound [ʔan˥]  'safe' Allophone of /a/ before /n/ when not preceded by a palatal. See Standard Chinese phonology
Danish Some speakers[7] Dansk [ˈd̥ansɡ̊] 'Danish' Certain older or upper-class speakers.[7] For others, it is higher [æ].[8][9][10][11][12] See Danish phonology
Dutch Broad Amsterdam[13] ijs [aːs] 'ice' Corresponds to [ɛi̯] in standard Dutch. See Dutch phonology
Groningen[14] aas 'bait'
Standard[15] Ranges from front to central.[16]
Utrecht[17] bad [bat] 'bath' Corresponds to [ɑ] in standard Netherlandic Dutch.
English California[18][19] hat About this sound [hat]  'hat' In other accents, or in some other speakers of the accents listed here, the quality may be anywhere from front [ɛ ~ æ ~ a] to central [ä] to back [ɑ], depending on the region. In some regions, the quality may be variable. For the Canadian vowel, see Canadian Shift. See also English phonology
Few younger speakers from Texas[19]
Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg[21]
Modern speakers of Received Pronunciation[22]
Some speakers from central Ohio[19]
Cockney[23][24] stuck [stak] 'stuck' Can be [ɐ̟] instead.
Inland Northern American[25] stock 'stock' Less front [ɑ ~ ä] in other American dialects. See Northern cities vowel shift
French Conservative Parisian[26] patte [pat̪] 'paw' Contrasts with [ɑ], but many speakers have only one open vowel [ä]. See French phonology
German Bernese drääje [ˈtræ̞ːjə] 'turn' See Bernese German phonology
Gujarati શાંતિ/shanti [ʃant̪i] 'peace' See Gujarati phonology
Igbo[27] ákụ [ákú̙] 'kernal'
Kabardian дахэ About this sound [daːxa]  'pretty'
Limburgish[4][28][29][30] baas [baːs] 'boss' Front or near-front, depending on the dialect.[4][28][29][30] The example word is from the Maastrichtian dialect.[29]
Luxembourgish[31][32] Kap [kʰaːpʰ] 'cap' Described variously as front[31] and near-front.[32] See Luxembourgish phonology
North Frisian braan [braːn] 'to burn'
Norwegian Stavangersk[33] hatt [hat] 'hat' See Norwegian phonology
Trondheimsk[34] lær [laːɾ] 'leather'
Older Standard Eastern[35] hat [haːt] 'hate' Some speakers; central [äː] in contemporary Standard Eastern Norwegian. See Norwegian phonology
West Farsund[36] Some speakers, for others it is more back. See Norwegian phonology
Polish[37] jajo About this sound [ˈjajɔ]  'egg' Allophone of /a/ between palatal or palatalized consonants. See Polish phonology
Slovak[38] a [a̠] 'and' Near-front; possible realization of /a/. Most commonly realized as central [ä] instead.[39] See Slovak phonology
Spanish Eastern Andalusian[40] las madres [læ̞(h) ˈmæ̞ːð̞ɾɛ(h)] 'the mothers' Corresponds to [ä] in other dialects, but in these dialects they're distinct. See Spanish phonology
Swedish Central Standard[41] bank [baŋk] 'bank' Also described as central [ä].[42] See Swedish phonology
Welsh mam [mam] 'mother' See Welsh phonology
Zapotec Tilquiapan[43] na [na] 'now'


  1. John Coleman: Cardinal vowels
  2. Geoff Lindsey (2013) The vowel space, Speech Talk
  3. Keith Johnson: Vowels in the languages of the world (PDF), p. 9
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Verhoeven (2007), p. 221.
  5. Thelwall & Sa'Adeddin (1990), p. 38.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ternes & Vladimirova-Buhtz (1999), p. ?.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Basbøll (2005:32)
  8. Grønnum (1998:100)
  9. Grønnum (2005:268)
  10. Grønnum (2003)
  11. Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2000:17)
  12. Ladefoged & Johnson (2010:227)
  13. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 136.
  14. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 133.
  15. Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 95, 104 and 132-133.
  16. Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 104.
  17. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 131.
  18. Gordon (2004), p. 347.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Thomas (2004:308): A few younger speakers from, e.g., Texas, who show the LOT/THOUGHT merger have TRAP shifted toward [a], but this retraction is not yet as common as in some non-Southern regions (e.g., California and Canada), though it is increasing in parts of the Midwest on the margins of the South (e.g., central Ohio).
  20. Boberg (2005), pp. 133–154.
  21. Bekker (2008), pp. 83–84.
  22. "Case Studies – Received Pronunciation Phonology – RP Vowel Sounds". British Library.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Wells (1982), p. 305.
  24. Hughes & Trudgill (1979), p. 35.
  25. W. Labov, S. Ash and C. Boberg (1997). "A national map of the regional dialects of American English". Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved March 7, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Ashby (2011), p. 100.
  27. Ikekeonwu (1999), p. 109.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Peters (2006), p. 119.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), p. 159.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998), p. 110.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Trouvain & Gilles (2009), p. 75.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 70.
  33. Vanvik (1979), p. 17.
  34. Vanvik (1979), p. 15.
  35. Vanvik (1979), p. 15-16.
  36. Vanvik (1979), p. 16.
  37. Jassem (2003), p. 106.
  38. Pavlík (2004:95)
  39. Pavlík (2004:94–95)
  40. 40.0 40.1 Zamora Vicente (1967), p. ?.
  41. Thorén & Petterson (1992), p. 15.
  42. Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  43. Merrill (2008), p. 109.


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External links