LIN228H1F 2012 – Week 3 Kochetov-1
English Vowels (General American/Canadian)
Vowels are described in terms of height, backness, and rounding.
height: high, mid, or low
backness: front, central, or back
rounding: rounded or unrounded (all of the non-low back vowels are rounded in English)
Diphthongs consist of a sequence of a simple vowel and a glide.
front central back front central back
i [ɨ] u
mid ɛ ǝ [ɚ] ɔj
ʌ [ɔ] [ʌj] [ʌw]
low æ aj aw
i beat [ buit] boot [ but]
ɪ bit [bɪt] ʊ book [bʊk]
ej bait [ bejt] ow boat [bowt]
ɛ bet [bɛt] ǝ sofa [ sowfǝ] ɔj boy [bɔj]
ʌ fun [ fʌn]
æ bat [bæt] aj hide [ hajd] ɑ father [fɑðǝɹ]
aw loud [lawd]
Tense vs. lax:
Vowels in English are also distinguished according to whether they are tense or lax. The terms
tense and lax do not refer to a consistent phonetic property but rather are used to label sets of
vowels that behave differently with respect to the phonology of English.
Tense vowels: i, ej, aj, aw, u, ow, ɑ, ɔj
Lax vowels: ɪ, ɛ, æ, ʌ, ʊ, ǝ LIN228H1F 2012 – Week 3 Kochetov-2
Tense vowels can occur in open (ending in __________________ ) or closed syllables
(ending in ____________________).
Lax vowels can only occur in closed syllables.
Schwa is exceptional in this respect. It is a lax vowel which can occur in open syllables.
Mid central vowels:
Schwa, [ǝ], is a mid, central, unrounded vowel that occurs in unstressed syllables.
Other vowels are often reduced to schwa in unstressed positions.
Caret, [ʌ], is also a mid, central, unrounded vowel and the two vowels sound very similar.
We will use [ʌ] to transcribe a mid, central vowel that occurs in stressed position and [ǝ]
to transcribe a mid, central vowel in unstressed position.
Vowels before /ɹ/:
Only some vowels may occur before /ɹ/.
Before syllable-final /ɹ/ there is no contrast between tense and lax vowels that have the
same specifications for height and backness (i/ɪ and u/ʊ). The actual vowel quality found
in words like beer and poor is somewhere between the two.
The monophthong [ɔ] in Canadian English is limited to the context before /ɹ/, as in
court [kɔɹt]. It can be considered an allophone of the diphthong /ow/.
Vowels before /l/:
Before /l/, the low back vowel /ɑ/ is usually rounded, [ɒ], as inoll [dɒl].
Allophonic variation in vowels
Tense vowels and diphthongs are always longer than lax vowels.
o For simple vowels this inherent length can is indicated with a raised dot in narrow
transcription (e.g. [uˑ]).
o For diphthongs inherent length is not shown using a raised dot but is conveyed by
the use of two characters in the representation of the diphthong (e.g. [ow]).
All vowels are lengthened when they occur before a voiced consonant or syllable finally.
This is known as contextual length because it is dependent upon the phonetic
environment in which the vowels occur. This is also shown with a raised dot.
If a vowel already has inherent length and is in a position where it is contextually
lengthened this additional length is shown with two dots (a colon). When diphthongs
receive contextual length this is shown with a raised dot following the vowel portion of
the diphthong. LIN228H1F 2012 – Week 3 Kochetov-3
before a voiceless before a voiced consonant syllable fin