Back vowel

A back vowel is any in a class of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the highest point of the tongue is positioned relatively back in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark vowels because they are perceived as sounding darker than the front vowels.[1]

Near-back vowels are essentially a type of back vowels; no language is known to contrast back and near-back vowels based on backness alone.

IPA: Vowels
Front Central Back

Paired vowels are: unrounded  rounded


In their articulation, back vowels do not form a single category, but may be either raised vowels such as [u] or retracted vowels such as [ɑ].[2]

Partial list

The back vowels that have dedicated symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet are:

There also are back vowels that don't have dedicated symbols in the IPA:

As here, other back vowels can be transcribed with diacritics of relative articulation applied to letters for neighboring vowels, such as ⟨⟩, ⟨⟩ or ⟨ʊ̟⟩ for a near-close back rounded vowel.

See also


  1. ^ Tsur, Reuven (February 1992). The Poetic Mode of Speech Perception. Duke University Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8223-1170-6.
  2. ^ Scott Moisik, Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins, & John H. Esling (2012) "The Epilaryngeal Articulator: A New Conceptual Tool for Understanding Lingual-Laryngeal Contrasts"
Bilabial trill

The bilabial trill is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents the sound is ⟨ʙ⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is B\.

In many of the languages in which the bilabial trill occurs, it occurs only as part of a prenasalized bilabial stop with trilled release, [mbʙ]. That developed historically from a prenasalized stop before a relatively high back vowel like [mbu]. In such instances, the sounds are usually still limited to the environment of a following [u]. However, the trills in Mangbetu may precede any vowel and are sometimes preceded by only a nasal.

A few languages, such as Mangbetu of Congo and Ninde of Vanuatu, have both a voiced and a voiceless bilabial trill.There is also a very rare voiceless alveolar bilabially trilled affricate, [t̪͡ʙ̥] (written ⟨tᵖ̃⟩ in Everett & Kern) reported from Pirahã and from a few words in the Chapacuran languages Wari’ and Oro Win. The sound also appears as an allophone of the labialized voiceless alveolar stop /tʷ/ of Abkhaz and Ubykh, but in those languages it is more often realised by a doubly articulated stop [t͡p]. In the Chapacuran languages, [tʙ̥] is reported almost exclusively before rounded vowels such as [o] and [y].

Central vowel

A central vowel, formerly also known as a mixed vowel, is any in a class of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a central vowel is that the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel. (In practice, unrounded central vowels tend to be further forward and rounded central vowels further back.)

Click consonant

Click consonants, or clicks, are speech sounds that occur as consonants in many languages of Southern Africa and in three languages of East Africa. Examples familiar to English-speakers are the Tut-tut (British spelling) or Tsk! Tsk! (American spelling) used to express disapproval or pity, the tchick! used to spur on a horse, and the clip-clop! sound children make with their tongue to imitate a horse trotting.

Technically, clicks are obstruents articulated with two closures (points of contact) in the mouth, one forward and one at the back. The enclosed pocket of air is rarefied by a sucking action of the tongue (in technical terminology, clicks have a lingual ingressive airstream mechanism). The forward closure is then released, producing what may be the loudest consonants in the language, but in some languages such as Hadza and Sandawe, clicks can be more subtle and may even be mistaken for ejectives.

Close-mid back rounded vowel

The close-mid back rounded vowel, or high-mid back rounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨o⟩.

For the close-mid back rounded vowel that is usually transcribed with the symbol ⟨ʊ⟩ or ⟨u⟩, see near-close back rounded vowel. If the usual symbol is ⟨o⟩, the vowel is listed here.

Close-mid back unrounded vowel

The close-mid back unrounded vowel, or high-mid back unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. Acoustically it is a close-mid back-central unrounded vowel. Its symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet is ⟨ɤ⟩, called "ram's horns". It is distinct from the symbol for the voiced velar fricative, ⟨ɣ⟩, which has a descender. Despite that, some writings use this symbol for the voiced velar fricative.

Before the 1989 IPA Convention, the symbol for the close-mid back unrounded vowel was ⟨⟩, sometimes called "baby gamma", which has a flat top; this symbol was in turn derived from and replaced the inverted small capital A, ⟨Ɐ⟩, that represented the sound before the 1928 revision to the IPA. The symbol was ultimately revised to be ⟨⟩, "ram's horns", with a rounded top, in order to better differentiate it from the Latin gamma ⟨ɣ⟩. Unicode provides only U+0264 ɤ LATIN SMALL LETTER RAMS HORN (HTML ɤ), but in some fonts this character may appear as a "baby gamma" instead.

Close back rounded vowel

The close back rounded vowel, or high back rounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨u⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is u.

In most languages, this rounded vowel is pronounced with protruded lips ('endolabial'). However, in a few cases the lips are compressed ('exolabial').

The close back rounded vowel is almost identical featurally to the labio-velar approximant [w]. [u] alternates with [w] in certain languages, such as French, and in the diphthongs of some languages, [u̯] with the non-syllabic diacritic and [w] are used in different transcription systems to represent the same sound.

Close back unrounded vowel

The close back unrounded vowel, or high back unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. Acoustically it is a close back-central unrounded vowel. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɯ⟩. Typographically a turned letter m, given its relation to the sound represented by the letter u it can be considered a u with an extra "bowl". It is not to be confused with ⟨uɪ⟩, a sequence of the symbols ⟨u⟩ and ⟨ɪ⟩ (which represent the close back rounded vowel and the near-close front unrounded vowel, respectively), nor with ⟨ω⟩, which is an unofficial symbol for the near-close back unrounded vowel.


I-mutation (also known as umlaut, front mutation, i-umlaut, i/j-mutation or i/j-umlaut) is a type of sound change in which a back vowel is fronted or a front vowel is raised if the following syllable contains /i/, /ī/ or /j/ (a voiced palatal approximant, sometimes called yod, the sound of English ⟨y⟩ in yes). It is a category of regressive metaphony, or vowel harmony.

The term is usually used by scholars of the Germanic languages: it is particularly important in the history of the Germanic languages because inflectional suffixes with an /i/ or /j/ led to many vowel alternations that are still important in the morphology of the languages.


The imperfect (abbreviated IMPERF) is a verb form which combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state). It can have meanings similar to the English "was walking" or "used to walk." It contrasts with preterite forms, which refer to a single completed event in the past.

Traditionally, the imperfect of languages such as Latin and French is referred to as one of the tenses, although it actually encodes aspectual information in addition to tense (time reference). It may be more precisely called past imperfective.'

English has no general imperfective and expresses it in different ways. The term "imperfect" in English refers to forms much more commonly called past progressive or past continuous (like was doing or were doing). These are combinations of past tense with specifically continuous or progressive aspect. In German, Imperfekt formerly referred to the simply conjugated past tense (to contrast with the Perfekt or compound past form), but the term Präteritum (preterite) is now preferred, since the form does not carry any implication of imperfective aspect.

"Imperfect" comes from the Latin imperfectus "unfinished", because the imperfect expresses an ongoing, uncompleted action. The equivalent Ancient Greek term was paratatikós "prolonged".

Manide language

Manide is a Philippine language spoken near the providence of Camarines Norte in the southern region of Luzon, a Philippine island. Manide is spoken by nearly 4,000 people, most of which reside in the towns of Labo, Jose Panganiban, and Paracale. Many of the Manide population children still grow up speaking Manide.

In terms of linguistic literature, Manide is the most divergent out of the three other groups occupying Southern Luzon which include Inagta Rinconada, Inagta Partido, and Inagta Alabat.Around 1903 and 1924, John M. Garvan (1963) visited Negrito Filipino communities in the region of Luzon and at that time, Manide was the recorded language which was documented a century ago.Nearly 285 of the 1000 lexical items seem to be unique including new coinages which are forms that experienced semantic and or phonological shifts over time. This makes Manide special as other languages such as Batak, Inagta Rinconada/ Partido, Mamanwa, Inati which have over 90% cognate with non-negrito languages.

Near-close near-back vowel

The International Phonetic Alphabet distinguishes two near-close near-back vowels:

The near-close near-back unrounded vowel [ɯ̽] or [ɯ̞̈]

The near-close near-back rounded vowel [ʊ]

Open-mid back rounded vowel

The open-mid back rounded vowel, or low-mid back rounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɔ⟩. The IPA symbol is a turned letter c and both the symbol and the sound are commonly called "open-o". The name open-o represents the sound, in that it is like the sound represented by ⟨o⟩, the close-mid back rounded vowel, except it is more open. It also represents the symbol, which can be remembered as an o which has been "opened" by removing part of the closed circular shape.

Open-mid back unrounded vowel

The open-mid back unrounded vowel, or low-mid back unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. Acoustically it is an open-mid back-central unrounded vowel. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ʌ⟩, graphically a rotated lowercase "v" (called a turned V but created as a small-capital ⟨ᴀ⟩ without the crossbar). Both the symbol and the sound are commonly referred to as either a wedge, a caret, or a hat. In transcriptions for English, this symbol is commonly used for the near-open central unrounded vowel, and in transcriptions for Danish, it is used for the (somewhat mid-centralized) open back rounded vowel.

Open back rounded vowel

The open back rounded vowel, or low back rounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. Acoustically, it is a near-open or near-low back rounded vowel. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɒ⟩. It is called "turned script a", being a rotated version of "script (cursive) a", which is the variant of a that lacks the extra stroke on top of a "printed a".

Turned script a ⟨ɒ⟩ has its linear stroke on the left, whereas "script a" ⟨ɑ⟩ (for its unrounded counterpart) has its linear stroke on the right.

According to Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), Assamese has an "over-rounded" [ɒ̹], with rounding as strong as that for [u].According to the phonetician Geoff Lindsey, ⟨ɒ⟩ may be an entirely superfluous IPA symbol, as the sound it represents is far too similar to the open-mid back rounded vowel [ɔ], which makes it unlikely that any language would contrast these two vowels phonemically. He also writes that the contemporary Standard Southern British (SSB) accent lacks [ɒ], having replaced it with the more common [ɔ] (a realization that is also found in e.g. Australia, New Zealand and Scotland), and advocates for transcribing this vowel with the symbol ⟨ɔ⟩ in SSB.This is not to be understood as /ɒ/ having the same quality as /ɔː/ (which Lindsey transcribes with ⟨oː⟩), as the latter vowel is true-mid [ɔ̝ː] in SSB, a pronunciation that was established decades ago. Lindsey also says that more open variants of /ɒ/ used formerly in SSB are satisfyingly represented by the symbols [ɔ̞] and [ɑ] in narrow phonetic transcription, and ⟨ɔ⟩ in phonemic/broad phonetic transcription. According to him, the endless repetition of the symbol ⟨ɒ⟩ in publications on BrE has given this vowel a familiarity out of all proportion to its scarcity in the world’s languages.

Open back unrounded vowel

The open back unrounded vowel, or low back unrounded vowel, 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) 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. This is extremely unusual.

Phonological history of English low back vowels

The phonology of the low back vowels of the English language has undergone changes both overall and with regional variations, through Old and Middle English to the present. The sounds heard in modern English were significantly influenced by the Great Vowel Shift, as well as more recent developments such as the cot–caught merger.

Scottish Gaelic orthography

Scottish Gaelic orthography has evolved over many centuries. Scottish Gaelic spelling is mainly based on etymological considerations.

Due to the etymological nature of the writing system, the same written form may result in a multitude of pronunciations depending on the spoken variant. For example, the word coimhead "watching" may result in [ˈkʰõ.ət̪], [ˈkʰɔ̃jət̪], [ˈkʰɤi.ət̪], or [ˈkʰɛ̃.ət̪].

Veps language

The Veps language (also known as Vepsian, natively as vepsän kelʹ, vepsän keli, or vepsä), spoken by the Vepsians (also known as Veps), belongs to the Finnic group of the Uralic languages. Closely related to Finnish and Karelian, Veps is also written using Latin script.

According to Soviet statistics, 12,500 people were self-designated ethnic Veps at the end of 1989.

According to the location of the people, the language is divided into three main dialects: Northern Veps (at Lake Onega to the south of Petrozavodsk, to the north of the river Svir, including the former Veps National Volost), Central Veps (in the Saint Petersburg region and Vologda Oblast), and Southern Veps (in the Saint Petersburg region). The Northern dialect seems the most distinct of the three; however, it is still mutually intelligible for speakers of the other two dialects. Speakers of the Northern dialect call themselves "Ludi" (lüdikad), or lüdilaižed.

In Russia, more than 350 children learn the Veps language in a total of 5 national schools.

Vowel harmony

Vowel harmony is a type of long-distance assimilatory phonological process involving vowels that occurs in some languages. A vowel or vowels in a word must be members of the same class (thus "in harmony"). In languages with vowel harmony, there are constraints on which vowels may be found near each other. Suffixes and prefixes will usually follow vowel harmony rules. Many agglutinative languages have vowel harmony.

IPA topics

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