A vowel is one of the two principal classes of speech sound, the other being a consonant. Vowels vary in quality, in loudness and also in quantity (length). They are usually voiced, and are closely involved in prosodic variation such as tone, intonation and stress. Vowel sounds are produced with an open vocal tract. The word vowel comes from the Latin word vocalis, meaning "vocal" (i.e. relating to the voice). In English, the word vowel is commonly used to refer both to vowel sounds and to the written symbols that represent them.
Paired vowels are: unrounded • rounded
The phonetic definition of "vowel" (i.e. a sound produced with no constriction in the vocal tract) does not always match the phonological definition (i.e. a sound that forms the peak of a syllable). The approximants [j] and [w] illustrate this: both are without much of a constriction in the vocal tract (so phonetically they seem to be vowel-like), but they occur at the onset of syllables (e.g. in "yet" and "wet") which suggests that phonologically they are consonants. A similar debate arises over whether a word like bird in a rhotic dialect has an r-colored vowel /ɝ/ or a syllabic consonant /ɹ̩/. The American linguist Kenneth Pike (1943) suggested the terms "vocoid" for a phonetic vowel and "vowel" for a phonological vowel, so using this terminology, [j] and [w] are classified as vocoids but not vowels. However, Maddieson and Emmory (1985) demonstrated from a range of languages that semivowels are produced with a narrower constriction of the vocal tract than vowels, and so may be considered consonants on that basis. Nonetheless, the phonetic and phonemic definitions would still conflict for the syllabic /l/ in table, or the syllabic nasals in button and rhythm.
The traditional view of vowel production, reflected for example in the terminology and presentation of the International Phonetic Alphabet, is one of articulatory features that determine a vowel's quality as distinguishing it from other vowels. Daniel Jones developed the cardinal vowel system to describe vowels in terms of the features of tongue height (vertical dimension), tongue backness (horizontal dimension) and roundedness (lip articulation). These three parameters are indicated in the schematic quadrilateral IPA vowel diagram on the right. There are additional features of vowel quality, such as the velum position (nasality), type of vocal fold vibration (phonation), and tongue root position.
This conception of vowel articulation has been known to be inaccurate since 1928. Peter Ladefoged has said that "early phoneticians... thought they were describing the highest point of the tongue, but they were not. They were actually describing formant frequencies." (See below.) The IPA Handbook concedes that "the vowel quadrilateral must be regarded as an abstraction and not a direct mapping of tongue position."
Nonetheless, the concept that vowel qualities are determined primarily by tongue position and lip rounding continues to be used in pedagogy, as it provides an intuitive explanation of how vowels are distinguished.
Vowel height is named for the vertical position of the tongue relative to either the roof of the mouth or the aperture of the jaw. However, it actually refers to the first formant (lowest resonance of the voice), abbreviated F1, which is associated with the height of the tongue. In close vowels, also known as high vowels, such as [i] and [u], the first formant is consistent with the tongue being positioned close to the palate, high in the mouth, whereas in open vowels, also known as low vowels, such as [a], F1 is consistent with the jaw being open and the tongue being positioned low in the mouth. Height is defined by the inverse of the F1 value: The higher the frequency of the first formant, the lower (more open) the vowel.[a]
The International Phonetic Alphabet defines seven degrees of vowel height, but no language is known to distinguish all of them without distinguishing another attribute:
The letters [e, ø, ɵ, ɤ, o] are typically used for either close-mid or true-mid vowels. However, if more precision is required, true-mid vowels may be written with a lowering diacritic [e̞, ø̞, ɵ̞, ɤ̞, o̞]. The Kensiu language, spoken in Malaysia and Thailand, is highly unusual in that it contrasts true-mid with close-mid and open-mid vowels, without any difference in other parameters like backness or roundness.
Although English contrasts six heights in its vowels, they are interdependent with differences in backness, and many are parts of diphthongs. It appears that some varieties of German have five vowel heights that contrast independently of length or other parameters. The Bavarian dialect of Amstetten has thirteen long vowels, which are reported to distinguish five heights (close, close-mid, mid, open-mid and open) each among the front unrounded, front rounded, and back rounded vowels as well as an open central vowel, for a total of five vowel heights: /i e ɛ̝ ɛ/, /y ø œ̝ œ/, /u o ɔ̝ ɔ/, /ä/. Otherwise, no language is known to contrast more than four degrees of vowel height.
The parameter of vowel height appears to be the primary cross-linguistic feature of vowels in that all spoken languages that have been researched till now use height as a contrastive feature. No other parameter, even backness or rounding (see below), is used in all languages. Some languages have vertical vowel systems in which at least at a phonemic level, only height is used to distinguish vowels.
Vowel backness is named for the position of the tongue during the articulation of a vowel relative to the back of the mouth. As with vowel height, however, it is defined by a formant of the voice, in this case the second, F2, not by the position of the tongue. In front vowels, such as [i], the frequency of F2 is relatively high, which generally corresponds to a position of the tongue forward in the mouth, whereas in back vowels, such as [u], F2 is low, consistent with the tongue being positioned towards the back of the mouth.
The International Phonetic Alphabet defines five degrees of vowel backness:
To them may be added front-central and back-central, corresponding to the vertical lines separating central from front and back vowel spaces in several IPA diagrams. However, front-central and back-central may also be used as terms synonymous with near-front and near-back. No language is known to contrast more than three degrees of backness nor is there a language that contrasts front with near-front vowels nor back with near-back ones.
Although some English dialects have vowels at five degrees of backness, there is no known language that distinguishes five degrees of backness without additional differences in height or rounding.
The conception of the tongue moving in two directions, high–low and front–back, is not supported by articulatory evidence and does not clarify how articulation affects vowel quality. Vowels may instead be characterized by the three directions of movement of the tongue from its neutral position: front, raised, and retracted. Front vowels ([i, e, ɛ] and, to a lesser extent [a, ɨ, ɘ, ɜ], etc.), can be secondarily qualified as close or open, as in the traditional conception, but rather than there being a unitary category of back vowels, the regrouping posits raised vowels, where the body of the tongue approaches the velum ([u, o, ɨ], etc.), and retracted vowels, where the root of the tongue approaches the pharynx ([ɑ, ɔ], etc.):
Membership in these categories is scalar, with the mid-central vowels being marginal to any category.
Roundedness is named after the rounding of the lips in some vowels. Because lip rounding is easily visible, vowels may be commonly identified as rounded based on the articulation of the lips. Acoustically, rounded vowels are identified chiefly by a decrease in F2, although F1 is also slightly decreased.
In most languages, roundedness is a reinforcing feature of mid to high back vowels rather than a distinctive feature. Usually, the higher a back vowel, the more intense is the rounding. However, in some languages, roundedness is independent from backness, such as French and German (with front rounded vowels), most Uralic languages (Estonian has a rounding contrast for /o/ and front vowels), Turkic languages (with a rounding distinction for front vowels and /u/), and Vietnamese with back unrounded vowels.
Nonetheless, even in those languages there is usually some phonetic correlation between rounding and backness: front rounded vowels tend to be more front-central than front, and back unrounded vowels tend to be more back-central than back. Thus, the placement of unrounded vowels to the left of rounded vowels on the IPA vowel chart is reflective of their position in formant space.
Different kinds of labialization are possible. In mid to high rounded back vowels the lips are generally protruded ("pursed") outward, a phenomenon known as exolabial rounding because the insides of the lips are visible, whereas in mid to high rounded front vowels the lips are generally "compressed" with the margins of the lips pulled in and drawn towards each other, a phenomenon known as endolabial rounding. However, not all languages follow that pattern. Japanese /u/, for example, is an endolabial (compressed) back vowel, and sounds quite different from an English exolabial /u/. Swedish and Norwegian are the only two known languages in which the feature is contrastive; they have both endo- and exo-labial close front vowels and close central vowels, respectively. In many phonetic treatments, both are considered types of rounding, but some phoneticians do not believe that these are subsets of a single phenomenon and posit instead three independent features of rounded (exolabial) and compressed (endolabial) and unrounded. The lip position of unrounded vowels may also be classified separately as spread and neutral (neither rounded nor spread). Others distinguish compressed rounded vowels, in which the corners of the mouth are drawn together, from compressed unrounded vowels, in which the lips are compressed but the corners remain apart as in spread vowels.
Nasalization refers to whether some of the air escapes through the nose. In nasal vowels, the velum is lowered, and some air travels through the nasal cavity as well as the mouth. An oral vowel is a vowel in which all air escapes through the mouth. French, Polish and Portuguese contrast nasal and oral vowels.
Voicing describes whether the vocal cords are vibrating during the articulation of a vowel. Most languages have only voiced vowels, but several Native American languages, such as Cheyenne and Totonac, contrast voiced and devoiced vowels. Vowels are devoiced in whispered speech. In Japanese and in Quebec French, vowels that are between voiceless consonants are often devoiced.
Modal voice, creaky voice, and breathy voice (murmured vowels) are phonation types that are used contrastively in some languages. Often, they co-occur with tone or stress distinctions; in the Mon language, vowels pronounced in the high tone are also produced with creaky voice. In such cases, it can be unclear whether it is the tone, the voicing type, or the pairing of the two that is being used for phonemic contrast. The combination of phonetic cues (phonation, tone, stress) is known as register or register complex.
Advanced tongue root (ATR) is a feature common across much of Africa, the Pacific Northwest, and scattered other languages such as Modern Mongolian. The contrast between advanced and retracted tongue root resembles the tense/lax contrast acoustically, but they are articulated differently. Those vowels involve noticeable tension in the vocal tract.
A stronger degree of pharyngealisation occurs in the Northeast Caucasian languages and the Khoisan languages. They might be called epiglottalized since the primary constriction is at the tip of the epiglottis.
The greatest degree of pharyngealisation is found in the strident vowels of the Khoisan languages, where the larynx is raised, and the pharynx constricted, so that either the epiglottis or the arytenoid cartilages vibrate instead of the vocal cords.
Note that the terms pharyngealized, epiglottalized, strident, and sphincteric are sometimes used interchangeably.
Rhotic vowels are the "R-colored vowels" of American English and a few other languages.
Tenseness is used to describe the opposition of tense vowels as in leap, suit vs. lax vowels as in lip, soot. This opposition has traditionally been thought to be a result of greater muscular tension, though phonetic experiments have repeatedly failed to show this.
Unlike the other features of vowel quality, tenseness is only applicable to the few languages that have this opposition (mainly Germanic languages, e.g. English), whereas the vowels of the other languages (e.g. Spanish) cannot be described with respect to tenseness in any meaningful way. In discourse about the English language, "tense and lax" are often used interchangeably with "long and short", respectively, because the features are concomitant in the common varieties of English. This cannot be applied to all English dialects or other languages.
In most Germanic languages, lax vowels can only occur in closed syllables. Therefore, they are also known as checked vowels, whereas the tense vowels are called free vowels since they can occur in any kind of syllable.
The acoustics of vowels are fairly well understood. The different vowel qualities are realized in acoustic analyses of vowels by the relative values of the formants, acoustic resonances of the vocal tract which show up as dark bands on a spectrogram. The vocal tract acts as a resonant cavity, and the position of the jaw, lips, and tongue affect the parameters of the resonant cavity, resulting in different formant values. The acoustics of vowels can be visualized using spectrograms, which display the acoustic energy at each frequency, and how this changes with time.
The first formant, abbreviated "F1", corresponds to vowel openness (vowel height). Open vowels have high F1 frequencies, while close vowels have low F1 frequencies, as can be seen in the accompanying spectrogram: The [i] and [u] have similar low first formants, whereas [ɑ] has a higher formant.
The second formant, F2, corresponds to vowel frontness. Back vowels have low F2 frequencies, while front vowels have high F2 frequencies. This is very clear in the spectrogram, where the front vowel [i] has a much higher F2 frequency than the other two vowels. However, in open vowels, the high F1 frequency forces a rise in the F2 frequency as well, so an alternative measure of frontness is the difference between the first and second formants. For this reason, some people prefer to plot as F1 vs. F2 – F1. (This dimension is usually called 'backness' rather than 'frontness', but the term 'backness' can be counterintuitive when discussing formants.)
In the third edition of his textbook, Peter Ladefoged recommended using plots of F1 against F2 – F1 to represent vowel quality. However, in the fourth edition, he changed to adopt a simple plot of F1 against F2, and this simple plot of F1 against F2 was maintained for the fifth (and final) edition of the book. Katrina Hayward compares the two types of plots and concludes that plotting of F1 against F2 – F1 "is not very satisfactory because of its effect on the placing of the central vowels", so she also recommends use of a simple plot of F1 against F2. In fact, this kind of plot of F1 against F2 has been used by analysts to show the quality of the vowels in a wide range of languages, including RP, the Queen's English, American English, Singapore English, Brunei English, North Frisian, Turkish Kabardian, and various indigenous Australian languages.
R-colored vowels are characterized by lowered F3 values.
Rounding is generally realized by a decrease of F2 that tends to reinforce vowel backness. One effect of this is that back vowels are most commonly rounded while front vowels are most commonly unrounded; another is that rounded vowels tend to plot to the right of unrounded vowels in vowel charts. That is, there is a reason for plotting vowel pairs the way they are.
In addition to variation in vowel quality as described above, vowels vary as a result of differences in prosody. The most important prosodic variables are pitch (fundamental frequency), loudness (intensity) and length (duration) However, the features of prosody are usually considered to apply not to the vowel itself, but to the syllable in which the vowel occurs. In other words, the domain of prosody is the syllable, not the segment (vowel or consonant).  We can list briefly the effect of prosody on the vowel component of a syllable.
A vowel sound whose quality does not change over the duration of the vowel is called a monophthong. Monophthongs are sometimes called "pure" or "stable" vowels. A vowel sound that glides from one quality to another is called a diphthong, and a vowel sound that glides successively through three qualities is a triphthong.
All languages have monophthongs and many languages have diphthongs, but triphthongs or vowel sounds with even more target qualities are relatively rare cross-linguistically. English has all three types: the vowel sound in hit is a monophthong /ɪ/, the vowel sound in boy is in most dialects a diphthong /ɔɪ/, and the vowel sounds of flower, /aʊər/, form a triphthong or disyllable, depending on dialect.
In phonology, diphthongs and triphthongs are distinguished from sequences of monophthongs by whether the vowel sound may be analyzed into different phonemes or not. For example, the vowel sounds in a two-syllable pronunciation of the word flower (/ˈflaʊər/) phonetically form a disyllabic triphthong, but are phonologically a sequence of a diphthong (represented by the letters ⟨ow⟩) and a monophthong (represented by the letters ⟨er⟩). Some linguists use the terms diphthong and triphthong only in this phonemic sense.
The name "vowel" is often used for the symbols that represent vowel sounds in a language's writing system, particularly if the language uses an alphabet. In writing systems based on the Latin alphabet, the letters A, E, I, O, U, Y, W and sometimes others can all be used to represent vowels. However, not all of these letters represent vowels in all languages, or even consistently within one language (some of them, especially W and Y, are also used to represent approximants). Moreover, a vowel might be represented by a letter usually reserved for consonants, or a combination of letters, particularly where one letter represents several sounds at once, or vice versa; examples from English include igh in "thigh" and x in "x-ray". In addition, extensions of the Latin alphabet have such independent vowel letters as Ä, Ö, Ü, Å, Æ, and Ø.
The phonetic values vary considerably by language, and some languages use I and Y for the consonant [j], e.g., initial I in Italian or Romanian and initial Y in English. In the original Latin alphabet, there was no written distinction between V and U, and the letter represented the approximant [w] and the vowels [u] and [ʊ]. In Modern Welsh, the letter aW represents these same sounds. Similarly, in Creek, the letter V stands for [ə]. There is not necessarily a direct one-to-one correspondence between the vowel sounds of a language and the vowel letters. Many languages that use a form of the Latin alphabet have more vowel sounds than can be represented by the standard set of five vowel letters. In English spelling, the five letters A E I O and U can represent a variety of vowel sounds, while the letter Y frequently represents vowels (as in e.g., "gym", "happy", or the diphthongs in "cry", "thyme"); W is used in representing some diphthongs (as in "cow") and to represent a monophthong in the borrowed words "cwm" and "crwth" (sometimes cruth).
Other languages cope with the limitation in the number of Latin vowel letters in similar ways. Many languages make extensive use of combinations of letters to represent various sounds. Other languages use vowel letters with modifications, such as ä in Swedish, or add diacritical marks, like umlauts, to vowels to represent the variety of possible vowel sounds. Some languages have also constructed additional vowel letters by modifying the standard Latin vowels in other ways, such as æ or ø that are found in some of the Scandinavian languages. The International Phonetic Alphabet has a set of 28 symbols to represent the range of basic vowel qualities, and a further set of diacritics to denote variations from the basic vowel.
The writing systems used for some languages, such as the Hebrew alphabet and the Arabic alphabet, do not ordinarily mark all the vowels, since they are frequently unnecessary in identifying a word. Technically, these are called abjads rather than alphabets. Although it is possible to construct simple English sentences that can be understood without written vowels (cn y rd ths?), extended passages of English lacking written vowels can be difficult to understand; consider dd, which could be any of dad, dada, dado, dead, deed, did, died, diode, dodo, dud, dude, odd, add, or aided. (But note that abjads generally express some word-internal vowels and all word-initial and word-final vowels, whereby the ambiguity will be much reduced.) The Masoretes devised a vowel notation system for Hebrew Jewish scripture that is still widely used, as well as the trope symbols used for its cantillation; both are part of oral tradition and still the basis for many bible translations—Jewish and Christian.
The differences in pronunciation of vowel letters between English and its related languages can be accounted for by the Great Vowel Shift. After printing was introduced to England, and therefore after spelling was more or less standardized, a series of dramatic changes in the pronunciation of the vowel phonemes did occur, and continued into recent centuries, but were not reflected in the spelling system. This has led to numerous inconsistencies in the spelling of English vowel sounds and the pronunciation of English vowel letters (and to the mispronunciation of foreign words and names by speakers of English).
The existence of vowel shifts should serve as a caution flag to anyone who is trying to pronounce an ancient language or, indeed, any poetry (in any language) from two centuries ago or earlier.
Paired vowels are: unrounded • rounded
The importance of vowels in distinguishing one word from another varies from language to language. Nearly all languages have at least three phonemic vowels, usually /i/, /a/, /u/ as in Classical Arabic and Inuktitut, though Adyghe and many Sepik languages have a vertical vowel system of /ɨ/, /ə/, /a/. Very few languages have fewer, though some Arrernte, Circassian, Ndu languages have been argued to have just two, /ə/ and /a/, with [ɨ] being epenthetic.
It is not straightforward to say which language has the most vowels, since that depends on how they are counted. For example, long vowels, nasal vowels, and various phonations may or may not be counted separately; indeed, it may sometimes be unclear if phonation belongs to the vowels or the consonants of a language. If such things are ignored and only vowels with dedicated IPA letters ('vowel qualities') are considered, then very few languages have more than ten. The Germanic languages have some of the largest inventories: Standard Danish has 11 to 13 short vowels (/(a) ɑ (ɐ) e ə ɛ i o ɔ u ø œ y/), while the Amstetten dialect of Bavarian has been reported to have thirteen long vowels: /iː yː eː øː ɛː œː æː ɶː aː ɒː ɔː oː uː/. The situation can be quite disparate within a same family language: Spanish and French are two closely related Romance languages but Spanish has only five pure vowel qualities, /a, e, i, o, u/, while classical French has eleven: /a, ɑ, e, ɛ, i, o, ɔ, u, y, œ, ø/ and four nasal vowels /ɑ̃/, /ɛ̃/, /ɔ̃/ and /œ̃/. The Mon–Khmer languages of Southeast Asia also have some large inventories, such as the eleven vowels of Vietnamese: /i e ɛ ɐ a ə ɔ ɤ o ɯ u/. Wu dialects have the largest inventories of Chinese; the Jinhui dialect of Wu has also been reported to have eleven vowels: ten basic vowels, /i y e ø ɛ ɑ ɔ o u ɯ/, plus restricted /ɨ/; this does not count the seven nasal vowels.
One of the most common vowels is [a̠]; it is nearly universal for a language to have at least one open vowel, though most dialects of English have an [æ] and a [ɑ]—and often an [ɒ], all open vowels—but no central [a]. Some Tagalog and Cebuano speakers have [ɐ] rather than [a], and Dhangu Yolngu is described as having /ɪ ɐ ʊ/, without any peripheral vowels. [i] is also extremely common, though Tehuelche has just the vowels /e a o/ with no close vowels. The third vowel of Arabic-type three-vowel system, /u/, is considerably less common. A large fraction of the languages of North America happen to have a four-vowel system without /u/: /i, e, a, o/; Nahuatl and Navajo are examples.
In most languages, vowels serve mainly to distinguish separate lexemes, rather than different inflectional forms of the same lexeme as they commonly do in the Semitic languages. For example, while English man becomes men in the plural, moon is not a different form of the same word.
In rhotic dialects of English, as in Canada and the United States, there are many words such as bird, learn, girl, church, worst, wyrm, myrrh that some phoneticians analyze as having no vowels, only a syllabic consonant /ɹ̩/. However, others analyze these words instead as having a rhotic vowel, /ɝː/. The difference may be partially one of dialect.
There are a few such words that are disyllabic, like cursor, curtain, and turtle: [ˈkɹ̩sɹ̩], [ˈkɹ̩tn̩] and [ˈtɹ̩tl̩] (or [ˈkɝːsɚ], [ˈkɝːtən], and [ˈtɝːtəl]), and even a few that are trisyllabic, at least in some accents, such as purpler [ˈpɹ̩.pl̩.ɹ̩], hurdler [ˈhɹ̩.dl̩.ɹ̩], gurgler [ˈɡɹ̩.ɡl̩.ɹ̩], and certainer [ˈsɹ̩.tn̩.ɹ̩].
The word and frequently contracts to a simple nasal ’n, as in lock 'n key [ˌlɒk ŋ ˈkiː]. Words such as will, have, and is regularly contract to ’ll [l], ’ve [v], and 's [z]. However, none of them are pronounced alone without vowels, so they are not phonological words. Onomatopoeic words that can be pronounced alone, and that have no vowels or ars, include hmm, pst!, shh!, tsk!, and zzz. As in other languages, onomatopoeiae stand outside the normal phonotactics of English.
There are other languages that form lexical words without vowel sounds. In Serbo-Croatian, for example, the consonants [r] and [rː] (the difference is not written) can act as a syllable nucleus and carry rising or falling tone; examples include the tongue-twister na vrh brda vrba mrda and geographic names such as Krk. In Czech and Slovak, either [l] or [r] can stand in for vowels: vlk [vl̩k] "wolf", krk [kr̩k] "neck". A particularly long word without vowels is čtvrthrst, meaning "quarter-handful", with two syllables (one for each R). Whole sentences can be made from such words, such as Strč prst skrz krk, meaning "stick a finger through your neck" (follow the link for a sound file), and Smrž pln skvrn zvlhl z mlh "A morel full of spots wetted from fogs". (Here zvlhl has two syllables based on L; note that the preposition z consists of a single consonant. Only prepositions do this in Czech, and they normally link phonetically to the following noun, so do not really behave as vowelless words.) In Russian, there are also prepositions that consist of a single consonant letter, like k "to", v "in", and s "with". However, these forms are actually contractions of ko, vo, and so respectively, and these forms are still used in modern Russian before words with certain consonant clusters for ease of pronunciation.
In Kazakh and certain other Turkic languages, words without vowel sounds may occur due to reduction of weak vowels. A common example is the Kazakh word for one: bir, pronounced [br]. Among careful speakers, however, the original vowel may be preserved, and the vowels are always preserved in the orthography.
So far, all of these syllabic consonants, at least in the lexical words, have been sonorants, such as [r], [l], [m], and [n], which have a voiced quality similar to vowels. (They can carry tone, for example.) However, there are languages with lexical words that not only contain no vowels, but contain no sonorants at all, like (non-lexical) shh! in English. These include some Berber languages and some languages of the American Pacific Northwest, such as Nuxalk. An example from the latter is scs "seal fat" (pronounced [sxs], as spelled), and a longer one is clhp'xwlhtlhplhhskwts' (pronounced [xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ]) "he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant". (Follow the Nuxalk link for other examples.) Berber examples include /tkkststt/ "you took it off" and /tfktstt/ "you gave it". Some words may contain one or two consonants only: /ɡ/ "be", /ks/ "feed on". (In Mandarin Chinese, words and syllables such as sī and zhī are sometimes described as being syllabic fricatives and affricates phonemically, /ś/ and /tʂ́/, but these do have a voiced segment that carries the tone.) In the Japonic language Miyako, there are words with no voiced sounds, such as ss 'dust', kss 'breast/milk', pss 'day', ff 'a comb', kff 'to make', fks 'to build', ksks 'month', sks 'to cut', psks 'to pull'.
It is not uncommon for short grammatical words to consist of only vowels, such as a and I in English. Lexical words are somewhat rarer in English and are generally restricted to a single syllable: eye, awe, owe, and in non-rhotic accents air, ore, err. Vowel-only words of more than one syllable are generally foreign loans, such as ai (two syllables: /ˈɑːi/) for the maned sloth, or proper names, such as Iowa (in some accents: /ˈaɪ.oʊ.ə/).
However, vowel sequences in hiatus are more freely allowed in some other languages, most famously perhaps in Bantu and Polynesian languages, but also in Japanese and Finnic languages. In such languages there tends to be a larger variety of vowel-only words. In Swahili (Bantu), for example, there is aua 'to survey' and eua 'to purify' (both three syllables); in Japanese, aoi 青い 'blue/green' and oioi 追々 'gradually' (three and four syllables); and in Finnish, aie 'intention' and auo 'open!' (both two syllables), although some dialects pronounce them as aije and auvo. Hawaiian, and the Polynesian languages generally, have unusually large numbers of such words, such as aeāea (a small green fish), which is three syllables: ae.āe.a. Most long words involve reduplication, which is quite productive in Polynesian: ioio 'grooves', eaea 'breath', uaua 'tough' (all four syllables), auēuē 'crying' (five syllables, from uē (uwē) 'to weep'), uoa or uouoa 'false mullet' (sp. fish, three or five syllables). The longest continuous vowel sequence is in Finnish word hääyöaie ("wedding night intention").
A (named , plural As, A's, as, a's or aes) is the first letter and the first vowel of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. It is similar to the Ancient Greek letter alpha, from which it derives. The uppercase version consists of the two slanting sides of a triangle, crossed in the middle by a horizontal bar. The lowercase version can be written in two forms: the double-storey a and single-storey ɑ. The latter is commonly used in handwriting and fonts based on it, especially fonts intended to be read by children, and is also found in italic type.
In English grammar, "a", and its variant "an", is an indefinite article.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.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.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.)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 front rounded vowel
The close front rounded vowel, or high front rounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. Acoustically it is a close front-central rounded vowel. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨y⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is y. Across many languages, it is most commonly represented orthographically as ⟨ü⟩ (in German, Turkish and Basque) or ⟨y⟩, but also as ⟨u⟩ (in French and a few other Romance languages and also in Dutch and the Kernewek Kemmyn standard of Cornish); ⟨iu⟩/⟨yu⟩ (in the romanization of various Asian languages); ⟨ű⟩ (in Hungarian for the long duration version; the short version is the ⟨ü⟩ found in other European alphabets); or ⟨уь⟩ (in Cyrillic-based writing systems such as that for Chechen)
Short /y/ and long /yː/ occurred in pre-Modern Greek. In the Attic and Ionic dialects of Ancient Greek, front [y yː] developed by fronting from back /u uː/ around the 6th to 7th century BC. A little later, the diphthong /yi/ when not before another vowel monophthongized and merged with long /yː/. In Koine Greek, the diphthong /oi/ changed to [yː], likely through the intermediate stages [øi] and [øː]. Through vowel shortening in Koine Greek, long /yː/ merged with short /y/. Later, /y/ unrounded to [i], yielding the pronunciation of Modern Greek. For more information, see the articles on Ancient Greek and Koine Greek phonology.
The close front rounded vowel is the vocalic equivalent of the labialized palatal approximant [ɥ]. The two are almost identical featurally. [y] alternates with [ɥ] in certain languages, such as French, and in the diphthongs of some languages, ⟨y̑⟩ with the non-syllabic diacritic and ⟨ɥ⟩ are used in different transcription systems to represent the same sound.
In most languages, this rounded vowel is pronounced with compressed lips ('exolabial'). However, in a few cases the lips are protruded ('endolabial').Close vowel
A close vowel, also known as a high vowel (in American terminology), is any in a class of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth as it can be without creating a constriction. A constriction would produce a sound that would be classified as a consonant.
The term "close" (, as in the opposite of "far") is prescribed by the International Phonetic Association. Close vowels are often referred to as "high" vowels, as in the Americanist phonetic tradition, because the tongue is positioned high in the mouth during articulation.
In the context of the phonology of any particular language, a high vowel can be any vowel that is more close than a mid vowel. That is, close-mid vowels, near-close vowels, and close vowels can all be considered high vowels.Diphthong
A diphthong ( DIF-thong or DIP-thong; from Greek: δίφθογγος, diphthongos, literally "double sound" or "double tone"), also known as a gliding vowel, is a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: that is, the tongue (and/or other parts of the speech apparatus) moves during the pronunciation of the vowel. In most dialects of English, the phrase no highway cowboys has five distinct diphthongs, one in every syllable.
Diphthongs contrast with monophthongs, where the tongue or other speech organs do not move and the syllable contains only a single vowel sound. For instance, in English, the word ah is spoken as a monophthong (), while the word ow is spoken as a diphthong in most dialects (). Where two adjacent vowel sounds occur in different syllables—for example, in the English word re-elect—the result is described as hiatus, not as a diphthong. (The English word hiatus is itself an example of both hiatus and diphthongs.)
Diphthongs often form when separate vowels are run together in rapid speech during a conversation. However, there are also unitary diphthongs, as in the English examples above, which are heard by listeners as single-vowel sounds (phonemes).Diphthongs use two vowel sounds in one syllable to make a speech sound.E
E (named e , plural ees) is the fifth letter and the second vowel in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. It is the most commonly used letter in many languages, including Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Latin, Latvian, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish.Front vowel
A front vowel is any in a class of vowel sound used in some spoken languages, its defining characteristic being that the highest point of the tongue is positioned relatively in front in the mouth without creating a constriction that would make it a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also called bright vowels because they are perceived as sounding brighter than the back vowels.Near-front vowels are essentially a type of front vowel; no language is known to contrast front and near-front vowels based on backness alone.
Rounded front vowels are typically centralized, that is, near-front in their articulation. This is one reason they are written to the right of unrounded front vowels in the IPA vowel chart.Great Vowel Shift
The Great Vowel Shift was a series of changes in the pronunciation of the English language that took place primarily between 1350 and the 1600s and 1700s, beginning in southern England and today having influenced effectively all dialects of English. Through this vowel shift, all Middle English long vowels changed their pronunciation. Some consonant sounds changed as well, particularly those that became silent; the term Great Vowel Shift is sometimes used to include these consonant changes.English spelling began to become standardized in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Great Vowel Shift is the major reason English spellings now often considerably deviate from their representation of English pronunciations. The Great Vowel Shift was first studied by Otto Jespersen (1860–1943), a Danish linguist and Anglicist, who coined the term.Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet (Hebrew: אָלֶף־בֵּית עִבְרִי, Alefbet ‘Ivri), known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, and block script, is an abjad script used in the writing of the Hebrew language. It is also used in the writing of other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Judaeo-Spanish, and Judeo-Arabic.
Historically, two separate abjad scripts have been used to write Hebrew. The original, old Hebrew script, known as the paleo-Hebrew alphabet, has been largely preserved in a variant form as the Samaritan alphabet. The present "Jewish script" or "square script", on the contrary, is a stylized form of the Aramaic alphabet and was known by Jewish sages as the Ashuri alphabet (lit. "Assyrian"), since its origins were alleged to be from Assyria.Various "styles" (in current terms, "fonts") of representation of the Jewish script letters described in this article also exist, including a variety of cursive Hebrew styles. In the remainder of this article, the term "Hebrew alphabet" refers to the square script unless otherwise indicated.
The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters. It does not have case, but five letters have different forms when used at the end of a word. Hebrew is written from right to left. Originally, the alphabet was an abjad consisting only of consonants, but is now considered an "impure abjad". As with other abjads, such as the Arabic alphabet, during its centuries-long use scribes devised means of indicating vowel sounds by separate vowel points, known in Hebrew as niqqud. In both biblical and rabbinic Hebrew, the letters י ו ה א can also function as matres lectionis, which is when certain consonants are used to indicate vowels. There is a trend in Modern Hebrew towards the use of matres lectionis to indicate vowels that have traditionally gone unwritten, a practice known as "full spelling".
The Yiddish alphabet, a modified version of the Hebrew alphabet used to write Yiddish, is a true alphabet, with all vowels rendered in the spelling, except in the case of inherited Hebrew words, which typically retain their Hebrew spellings.
The Arabic and Hebrew alphabets have similarities because they are both derived from the Aramaic alphabet.I
I (named i , plural ies) is the ninth letter and the third vowel in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.O
O (named o , plural oes) is the 15th letter and the fourth vowel in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.Open-mid front unrounded vowel
The open-mid front unrounded vowel, or low-mid front 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 a Latinized variant of the Greek lowercase epsilon, ⟨ɛ⟩.Open front unrounded vowel
The open front unrounded vowel, or low front unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. It is one of the eight primary cardinal vowels, not directly intended to correspond to a vowel sound of a specific language but rather to serve as a fundamental reference point in a phonetic measuring system.The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) that represents this sound is ⟨a⟩, and in the IPA vowel chart it is positioned at the lower-left corner. However, the accuracy of the quadrilateral vowel chart is disputed, and the sound has been analyzed acoustically as an extra-open/low unrounded vowel at a position where the front/back distinction has lost its significance. There are also differing interpretations of the exact quality of the vowel: the classic sound recording of [a] by Daniel Jones is slightly more front but not quite as open as that by John Wells.In practice, it is considered normal by many phoneticians to use the symbol ⟨a⟩ for an open central unrounded vowel and instead approximate the open front unrounded vowel with ⟨æ⟩ (which officially signifies a near-open front unrounded vowel). This is the usual practice, for example, in the historical study of the English language. The loss of separate symbols for open and near-open front vowels is usually considered unproblematic, because the perceptual difference between the two is quite small, and very few languages contrast the two. If there is a need to specify the backness of the vowel as fully front one can use the symbol ⟨æ̞⟩, which denotes a lowered near-open front unrounded vowel.
The Hamont dialect of Limburgish has been reported to contrast long open front, central and back unrounded vowels. This is extremely unusual.Open vowel
An open vowel is a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels (in American terminology ) in reference to the low position of the tongue.
In the context of the phonology of any particular language, a low vowel can be any vowel that is more open than a mid vowel. That is, open-mid vowels, near-open vowels, and open vowels can all be considered low vowels.Stress (linguistics)
In linguistics, and particularly phonology, stress or accent is relative emphasis or prominence given to a certain syllable in a word, or to a certain word in a phrase or sentence. This emphasis is typically caused by such properties as increased loudness and vowel length, full articulation of the vowel, and changes in pitch. The terms stress and accent are often used synonymously in this context, but they are sometimes distinguished. For example, when emphasis is produced through pitch alone, it is called pitch accent, and when produced through length alone, it is called quantitative accent. When caused by a combination of various intensified properties, it is called stress accent or dynamic accent; English uses what is called variable stress accent.
Since stress can be realised through a wide range of phonetic properties, such as loudness, vowel length, and pitch, which are also used for other linguistic functions, it is difficult to define stress solely phonetically.
The stress placed on syllables within words is called word stress or lexical stress. Some languages have fixed stress, meaning that the stress on virtually any multisyllable word falls on a particular syllable, such as the penultimate (e.g. Polish) or the first. Other languages, like English and Russian, have variable stress, where the position of stress in a word is not predictable in that way. Sometimes more than one level of stress, such as primary stress and secondary stress, may be identified. However, some languages, such as French and Mandarin, are sometimes analyzed as lacking lexical stress entirely.
The stress placed on words within sentences is called sentence stress or prosodic stress. This is one of the three components of prosody, along with rhythm and intonation. It includes phrasal stress (the default emphasis of certain words within phrases or clauses), and contrastive stress (used to highlight an item − a word, or occasionally just part of a word − that is given particular focus).U
U (named u , plural ues) is the 21st letter and the fifth vowel in the ISO basic Latin alphabet. It is preceded by T, and is followed by V.Y
Y (named wye , plural wyes) is the 25th and penultimate letter in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. In the English writing system, it sometimes represents a vowel and sometimes a consonant.