LIN228 2012 -- Week 7 Kochetov-1
Vowels of the World’s Languages
I. Cardinal vowels
Main articulatory properties distinguishing vowels: height and backness (place).
i, y ɯ, u
e, ø ɘ, ɵ ɤ , o
ɛ, œ ɜ, ɞ ʌ, ɔ
a, ɶ ɑ, ɒ
Cardinal vowels are produced at the extreme periphery of the vowel space and are equidistant
from one another. The cardinal vowel system was designed to provide reference points in the
description of vowels. Vowels in particular languages can be described in reference to the
The vowels at the extreme possible points of articulation are:
[i] [y] high, front
[a] [ɶ] low, front
[u] [ɯ] high, back
[ɑ] [ɒ] low, back
In addition to the vowels produced at the four extreme corners of the vowel space, the vowel
quadrilateral is further divided with a vertical line down the centre and two horizontal lines
equidistant front one another. Each of the horizontal lines have cardinal vowels at the front and
back extremes. The vowel schwa is in the very centre of the vowel space.
The front and back sets of cardinal vowels are equidistant from one another.
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Average frequencies of F1 and F2 for the cardinal vowels (in Hz; frequencies from table 9.1 of
i 240 2400 y 235 2100
e 3902300 ø 370 1900
ɛ 610 1900 œ 585 1710
a 8501610 820 1530
ɑ 750 940 ɒ 700 760
ɔ 500 700 ʌ 600 1170
o 360640 ɤ 460 1310
u 250595 ɯ 300 1390
Adding lip rounding to front vowels ______________ both formants, but particularly _______.
Because a high _________ is characteristic of front vowels in general, the effect of rounding
gives the impression that a rounded front [y] is somewhere between [i] and [u].
Primary vowels are more common than secondary vowels.
Lip rounding for back vowels tends to be made by protruding the lips whereas lip rounding on
front vowels tends to be made by narrowing the lips without pushing them forward.
Some vowel inventories:
Spanish: Japanese: Danish:
i• u• i• ɯ • i• y• u•
e• ø • o•
e • o• e• o• ɛ • œ • ɔ •
a• a • a• ɑ •
Vowel systems of particular languages are generally transcribed by using the cardinal vowel
symbol that is closest to each vowel in a language. However, language-specific transcription
traditions also develop and differ from the cardinal vowel usage. In English, for example, the low
front vowel is transcribed with [æ] and not with the low, front cardinal vowel symbol [a].
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II. Additional Vowel Symbols
Additional symbols are needed for some languages. If a language has five, unrounded front
vowels there will not be enough cardinal vowel symbols to represent every vowel in the
The following additional symbols are needed for languages with larger vowel inventories:
[ɪ] – between [i] and [e]
[ʏ] – between [y] and [ø]
[ʊ] – between [u] and [o]
[æ] – between [ɛ] and [a]
[ɐ] – higher low central unrounded
If additional precision is needed, the following diacritics can be used to show that a vowel is
slightly more front, more back, higher or lower than the cardinal symbol being used: