Open back unrounded vowel

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Open back unrounded vowel
IPA Number 305
Entity (decimal) ɑ
Unicode (hex) U+0251
Braille ⠡ (braille pattern dots-16)
Audio sample

The open back unrounded vowel, or low back unrounded vowel,[1] 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.

In some languages (such as Azerbaijani, Estonian, Luxembourgish and Toda)[2][3][4][5] there is the near-open back unrounded vowel (a sound between cardinal [ɑ] and [ʌ]), which can be transcribed in IPA with ⟨ɑ̝⟩ or ⟨ʌ̞⟩.

The Hamont dialect of Limburgish has been reported to contrast long open front, central and back unrounded vowels.[6] This is extremely unusual.


  • 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. 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[7] daar [dɑːr] 'there' The quality varies between open near-back unrounded [ɑ̟ː], open back unrounded [ɑː] and even open back rounded [ɒː].[7] See Afrikaans phonology
Arabic Standard[8] طويل [tˤɑˈwiːl] 'tall' Allophone of long and short /a/ near emphatic consonants, depending on the speaker's accent. See Arabic phonology
Armenian Eastern[8] հաց [hɑt͡sʰ] 'bread'
Azerbaijani[2] qardaş [ɡɑ̝ɾˈd̪ɑ̝ʃ] 'brother' Near-open.[2]
Bashkir ҡаҙ / qað About this sound[qɑð]  'goose'
Catalan Many dialects[9] pal [ˈpɑɫ] 'stick' Allophone of /a/ in contact with velar consonants.[9] See Catalan phonology
Some dialects[10][11] mà [ˈmɑ] 'hand' More central ([ɑ̟], [ä]) in other dialects; fully front [a] in Majorcan Catalan.[11]
Some Valencian and Majorcan speakers[9] lloc [ˈʎ̟ɑk] 'place' Unrounded allophone of /ɔ/ in some accents.[9] Can be centralized.
Some southern Valencian speakers[12] bou [ˈbɑw] 'bull' Pronunciation of the vowel /ɔ/ before [w].[12] Can be centralized.
Chinese Mandarin[13] / bàng About this sound[pɑŋ˥˩]  'stick' Allophone of /a/ before /ŋ/.[13] See Standard Chinese phonology
Dutch Standard[14][15] bad [bɑt] 'bath' Backness varies among dialects; in the Standard Northern accent it is fully back.[16][14] In the Standard Belgian accent it is raised and fronted to [ɑ̝̈].[15] See Dutch phonology
Leiden[16] [bɑ̝t] Near-open fully back; can be rounded [ɒ̝] instead.[16] See Dutch phonology
Amsterdam[17] aap [ɑːp] 'monkey' Corresponds to [ ~ äː] in standard Dutch.
The Hague[19] nauw [nɑː] 'narrow' Corresponds to [ʌu] in standard Dutch.
English Cardiff[20] hot [hɑ̝̈t] 'hot' Somewhat raised and fronted.[20][21]
General American[22] [hɑt] May be more front [ɑ̟ ~ ä], especially in accents without the cot-caught merger. See English phonology
Cockney[23] bath [bɑːθ] 'bath' Fully back. It can be more front [ɑ̟ː] instead.
General South African[24] Fully back. Broad varieties usually produce a rounded vowel [ɒː ~ ɔː] instead, while Cultivated SAE prefers a more front vowel [ɑ̟ː ~ äː]. See South African English phonology
South African[25]
[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 and South African English phonology
Received Pronunciation[26]
Non-local Dublin[27] back [bɑq] 'back' Allophone of /a/ before velars for some speakers.[27]
Estonian[3] vale [ˈvɑ̝le̞ˑ] 'wrong' Near-open.[3] See Estonian phonology
Faroese Some dialects[28] vátur [ˈvɑːtʊɹ] 'water' Corresponds to /ɔɑ/ in standard language.[28] See Faroese phonology
Finnish[29] kana [ˈkɑ̝nɑ̝] 'hen' Near-open,[29] also described as open central [ä].[30] See Finnish phonology
French Conservative Parisian[31][32] pas [pɑ] 'not' Contrasts with /a/, but many speakers have only one open vowel [ä].[33] See French phonology
Quebec[34] pâte [pɑːt] 'paste' Contrasts with /a/.[34] See Quebec French phonology
Galician[35][36] irmán [iɾˈmɑŋ] 'brother' Allophone of /a/ in contact with velar consonants.[35][36] See Galician phonology
Georgian[37] გუდ / guda [k̬ud̪ɑ] 'leather bag' Usually not fully back [ɑ], typically [ɑ̟] to [ä].[38] Sometimes transcribed as /a/.
German Standard[39] Gourmand [ɡ̊ʊʁˈmɑ̃ː] 'gourmand' Nasalized; often realized as rounded [ɒ̃ː].[40] See Standard German phonology
Many speakers[41] nah [nɑː] 'near' Used by speakers in Northern Germany, East Central Germany, Franconia and Switzerland.[41] Also a part of the Standard Austrian accent.[42] More front in other accents. See Standard German phonology
Northern German accents[41] kommen [ˈkʰɑmən] 'to come' Local realization of /ɔ/; can be central [ɐ] instead.[41] See Standard German phonology
Greek Sfakian[43] [example needed] Corresponds to central [ä ~ ɐ] in Modern Standard Greek.[44][45] See Modern Greek phonology
Hungarian Some dialects[46] magyar [ˈmɑɟɑr] 'Hungarian' Weakly rounded [ɒ] in standard Hungarian.[47] See Hungarian phonology
Inuit West Greenlandic[48] [example needed] Allophone of /a/ before and especially between uvulars.[48] See Inuit phonology
Italian Some Piedmont dialects casa [ˈkɑːzɑ] 'house' Allophone of /a/ which in Italian is largely realised as central [ä].
Kaingang[49] [ᵑɡɑ] 'land, soil' Varies between back [ɑ] and central [ɐ].[50]
Kurdish South Kurdish لاو [lɑːw] 'flood' see Kurdish phonology
Limburgish[51][52][53] bats [bɑ̽ts] 'buttock' The quality varies between open back [ɑ],[51] open near-back [ɑ̟][52] and near-open near-back [ɑ̽][53] (illustrated in the example word, which is from the Maastrichtian dialect), depending on the dialect.
Low German[54] al / aal [ɑːl] 'all' Backness may vary among dialects.[54]
Luxembourgish[4] Kapp [kʰɑ̝p] 'head' Near-open fully back.[4] See Luxembourgish phonology
Malay Kedah dialect[55] mata [matɑ] 'eye' See Malay phonology
Norwegian[56][57] hat [hɑːt] 'hate' The example word is from Urban East Norwegian. Central [äː] in some other dialects.[56][57][58] See Norwegian phonology
Russian[59] палка [ˈpɑɫkə] 'stick' Occurs only before the hard /l/, but not when a palatalized consonant precedes. See Russian phonology
Sema[60] amqa [à̠mqɑ̀] 'lower back' Possible realization of /a/ after uvular stops.[60]
Swedish Some dialects jаg [jɑːɡ] 'I' Weakly rounded [ɒ̜ː] in Central Standard Swedish.[61] See Swedish phonology
Toda[5] [orthographic
form needed
[ɑ̝ːn] 'elephant' Near-open.[5]
Turkish[62] at [ɑt̪] 'horse' Also described as central [ä].[63] See Turkish phonology
Ukrainian[64] мати [ˈmɑtɪ] 'mother' See Ukrainian phonology
West Frisian Standard[65] lang [ɫɑŋ] 'long' Also described as central [ä].[66] See West Frisian phonology
Aastersk[67] maat [mɑːt] 'mate' Contrasts with a front //.[67] See West Frisian phonology

See also


  1. ^ While the International Phonetic Association prefers the terms "close" and "open" for vowel height, many linguists use "high" and "low".
  2. ^ a b c Mokari & Werner (2016), p. 509.
  3. ^ a b c Asu & Teras (2009), p. 368.
  4. ^ a b c Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 70.
  5. ^ a b c Shalev, Ladefoged & Bhaskararao (1993), p. 92.
  6. ^ Verhoeven (2007), p. 221.
  7. ^ a b Wissing (2016), section "The unrounded low-central vowel /a/".
  8. ^ a b Thelwall & Sa'Adeddin (1990), p. 39.
  9. ^ a b c d Saborit (2009), p. 10.
  10. ^ Rafel (1999), p. 14.
  11. ^ a b Recasens (1996), pp. 90–92.
  12. ^ a b Recasens (1996), pp. 131–132.
  13. ^ a b Mou (2006), p. 65.
  14. ^ a b Gussenhoven (1992), p. 47.
  15. ^ a b Verhoeven (2005), p. 245.
  16. ^ a b c d Collins & Mees (2003), p. 131.
  17. ^ Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 78, 104, 133.
  18. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 104, 133.
  19. ^ Collins & Mees (2003), p. 136.
  20. ^ a b Collins & Mees (1990), p. 95.
  21. ^ a b Lodge (2009), p. 168.
  22. ^ Mannell, Cox & Harrington (2009).
  23. ^ Wells (1982), p. 305.
  24. ^ Lass (2002), p. 117.
  25. ^ Lass (2002), p. 116-117.
  26. ^ Roach (2004), p. 242.
  27. ^ a b "Glossary". Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  28. ^ a b Árnason (2011), pp. 69, 79.
  29. ^ a b Suomi, Toivanen & Ylitalo (2008), p. 21.
  30. ^ Maddieson (1984), cited in Suomi, Toivanen & Ylitalo (2008:21)
  31. ^ Ashby (2011), p. 100.
  32. ^ Collins & Mees (2013), pp. 225–227.
  33. ^ Collins & Mees (2013), pp. 226–227.
  34. ^ a b Walker (1984), p. 53.
  35. ^ a b Regueira (1996), p. 122.
  36. ^ a b Freixeiro Mato (2006), pp. 72–73.
  37. ^ Shosted & Chikovani (2006), pp. 261–262.
  38. ^ Aronson, Howard (1990), Georgian: A Reading Grammar (2nd ed.), Columbus, OH: Slavica
  39. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), pp. 34, 38.
  40. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 38.
  41. ^ a b c d Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 64.
  42. ^ Moosmüller, Schmid & Brandstätter (2015), pp. 342–344.
  43. ^ Trudgill (2009), pp. 83–84.
  44. ^ Trudgill (2009), p. 81.
  45. ^ Arvaniti (2007), pp. 25, 28.
  46. ^ Vago (1980), p. 1.
  47. ^ Szende (1994), p. 92.
  48. ^ a b Fortescue (1990), p. 317.
  49. ^ Jolkesky (2009), pp. 676–677, 682.
  50. ^ Jolkesky (2009), pp. 676, 682.
  51. ^ a b Peters (2006), p. 119.
  52. ^ a b Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998), p. 110.
  53. ^ a b Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), p. 159.
  54. ^ a b Prehn (2012), p. 157.
  55. ^ Zaharani Ahmad (1991).
  56. ^ a b Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 16–17.
  57. ^ a b Kvifte & Gude-Husken (2005), p. 4.
  58. ^ Vanvik (1979), pp. 16–17.
  59. ^ Jones & Ward (1969), p. 50.
  60. ^ a b Teo (2014), p. 28.
  61. ^ Engstrand (1999), p. 141.
  62. ^ Göksel & Kerslake (2005), p. 10.
  63. ^ Zimmer & Orgun (1999), p. 155.
  64. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995), p. 4.
  65. ^ de Haan (2010), p. 333.
  66. ^ Visser (1997), p. 14.
  67. ^ a b van der Veen (2001), p. 102.


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External links

  • List of languages with [ɑ] on PHOIBLE
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