Open central unrounded vowel

Open central unrounded vowel
IPA Number304 415
Entity (decimal)a​̈
Unicode (hex)U+0061 U+0308
X-SAMPAa_" or a_- or 6_o or A_"
Audio sample

The open central unrounded vowel, or low central unrounded vowel,[1] is a type of vowel sound, used in many spoken languages. While the International Phonetic Alphabet officially has no dedicated letter for this sound between front [a] and back [ɑ], it is normally written ⟨a⟩. If precision is required, it can be specified by using diacritics, such as centralized ⟨ä⟩ or retracted ⟨⟩.

It is more common to use plain ⟨a⟩ for an open central vowel and, if needed, ⟨æ⟩ (officially near-open front vowel) for an open front vowel. Alternatively, Sinologists may use the letter ⟨⟩ (small capital A). The IPA has voted against officially adopting this symbol in 1976, 1989, and 2012.[2][3][4]

The Hamont dialect of Limburgish has been reported to contrast long open front, central and back unrounded vowels.[5] This is extremely unusual.


  • Its vowel height is open, also known as low, which means the tongue is positioned far from the roof of the mouth – that is, low in the mouth.
  • Its vowel backness is central, which means the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel. This often subsumes open (low) front vowels, because the tongue does not have as much flexibility in positioning as it does for the close (high) vowels; the difference between an open front vowel and an open back vowel is equal 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.


Most languages have some form of an unrounded open vowel. Because the IPA uses ⟨a⟩ for both front and central unrounded open vowels, it is not always clear whether a particular language uses the former or the latter. However, there may not actually be a difference. (See Vowel#Acoustics.)

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Burmese[6] မာ / ma [mä] 'hard' Oral allophone of /a/ in open syllables; realized as near-open [ɐ] in other environments.[6]
Chinese Mandarin[7] / tā About this sound[tʰä˥] 'he' See Standard Chinese phonology
Czech[8][9] prach [präx] 'dust' See Czech phonology
Danish Standard[10] barn [ˈb̥ɑ̈ːˀn] 'child' Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨ɑː⟩. See Danish phonology
Dutch[11][12] zaal [zäːɫ] 'hall' Ranges from front to central;[11] in non-standard accents it may be back. See Dutch phonology
English Australian[13] bra [bɹɐ̞ː] 'bra' Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨ɐː⟩. See Australian English phonology
East Anglian[14] Used mostly by middle-class speakers; can be front [] instead.[14]
General American[15] Can be back [ɑ̟ː] instead.[15]
New Zealand[16][17] Can be more front [a̠ː] and/or higher [ɐ̟ː ~ ɐː] instead.[16][17] It may be transcribed in IPA with ⟨ɐː⟩. See New Zealand English phonology
Some Canadian speakers[18][19] trap [t̠ɹ̝̊äp̚] 'trap' See Canadian Shift and English phonology
Some English English speakers[20][21] [t̠ɹ̝̊äʔp] Used in Multicultural London English and Northern England English.[20][21] More front [æ ~ a] in other dialects.
French Parisian[22][23] patte [pät̪] 'paw' Older speakers have two contrastive open vowels: front /a/ and back /ɑ/.[23] See French phonology
German[24][25] Katze [ˈkʰät͡sə] 'cat' Can be more front or more back in regional Standard German.[26] See Standard German phonology
Hungarian[27] láb [läːb] 'leg' See Hungarian phonology
Italian[28] casa [ˈkäːsä] 'home' See Italian phonology
Japanese[29] ka About this sound[kä] 'mosquito' See Japanese phonology
Limburgish Hamont dialect[5] zaak [zäːk²] 'business' Contrasts with front [æ̞ː] and back [ɑː].[5]
Polish[30] kat About this sound[kät̪] 'executioner' See Polish phonology
Portuguese[31] vá [vä] 'go' See Portuguese phonology
Romanian[32] cal [käl] 'horse' See Romanian phonology
Serbo-Croatian[33][34] пас / pas [pâ̠s̪] 'dog' See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Spanish[35] rata [ˈrät̪ä] 'rat' See Spanish phonology
Swedish Central Standard[36][37] bank [bäŋk] 'bank' Also described as front [a].[38][39] See Swedish phonology
Turkish[40] at [ät̪] 'horse' Also described as back [ɑ].[41] See Turkish phonology
Yoruba[42] [example needed]


  1. ^ While the International Phonetic Association prefers the terms "close" and "open" for vowel height, many linguists use "high" and "low".
  2. ^ Wells (1976).
  3. ^ International Phonetic Association (1989), p. 74.
  4. ^ Keating (2012).
  5. ^ a b c Verhoeven (2007), p. 221.
  6. ^ a b Watkins (2001), pp. 292–293.
  7. ^ Lee & Zee (2003), pp. 110–111.
  8. ^ Dankovičová (1999), p. 72.
  9. ^ Šimáčková, Podlipský & Chládková (2012), p. 228.
  10. ^ Grønnum (1998), p. 100.
  11. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2003), p. 104.
  12. ^ Verhoeven (2005), p. 245.
  13. ^ Cox & Fletcher (2017), pp. 64–65.
  14. ^ a b Trudgill (2004), p. 172.
  15. ^ a b Wells (1982), p. 476.
  16. ^ a b Bauer et al., p. 98.
  17. ^ a b Hay, Maclagan & Gordon (2008), pp. 21–23.
  18. ^ Esling & Warkentyne (1993), p. ?.
  19. ^ Boberg (2004), pp. 361–362.
  20. ^ a b Boberg (2004), p. 361.
  21. ^ a b Kerswill, Torgerson & Fox (2006), p. 30.
  22. ^ Fougeron & Smith (1993), p. 73.
  23. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2013), pp. 226–227.
  24. ^ Kohler (1999), p. 87.
  25. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 34.
  26. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 64.
  27. ^ Szende (1994), p. 92.
  28. ^ Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004), p. 119.
  29. ^ Okada (1999), p. 117.
  30. ^ Jassem (2003), p. 105.
  31. ^ Cruz-Ferreira (1995), p. 91.
  32. ^ Sarlin (2014), p. 18.
  33. ^ Kordić (2006), p. 4.
  34. ^ Landau et al. (1999), p. 67.
  35. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003), p. 256.
  36. ^ Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  37. ^ Riad (2014), p. 35.
  38. ^ Bolander (2001), p. 55.
  39. ^ Rosenqvist (2007), p. 9.
  40. ^ Zimmer & Orgun (1999), p. 155.
  41. ^ Göksel & Kerslake (2005), p. 10.
  42. ^ Bamgboṣe (1969), p. 166.


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