Open central unrounded vowel

Open central unrounded vowel
IPA number 304 415
Entity (decimal) ä
Unicode (hex) U+0061U+0308
X-SAMPA a_" or a_- or A_" or 6_o
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The open central unrounded vowel, or low central unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in many spoken languages. While the International Phonetic Alphabet officially has no dedicated letter for this sound between front [a] and back [ɑ], it is normally written a. If precision is required, it can be specified by using diacritics, such as centralized ä or retracted , but this is not common.

Acoustically, however, [a] is an extra-low central vowel.[1] It is more common to use plain [a] for an open central vowel and, if needed, [æ] (officially near-open front vowel) for an open front vowel. Alternatively, Sinologists may use the letter (small capital A). The IPA voted against officially adopting this symbol in 2011–2012.[2]

The Hamont dialect of Limburgish has been reported to contrast long open front, central and back unrounded vowels,[3] which is extremely unusual.

The IPA prefers terms "close" and "open" for vowels, and the name of the article follows this. However, some linguists prefer the terms "high" and "low".


IPA vowel chart
Front Near-front Central Near-back Back
i  y
ɨ  ʉ
ɯ  u
ɪ  ʏ
ɪ̈  ʊ̈
ɯ̽  ʊ
e  ø
ɘ  ɵ
ɤ  o
ə  ɵ̞
ɛ  œ
ɜ  ɞ
ʌ  ɔ
ɐ  ɞ̞
a  ɶ
ä  ɒ̈
ɑ  ɒ
Paired vowels are: unrounded  rounded
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Most languages have some form of an unrounded open vowel. Because the IPA uses a for both front and central unrounded open vowels, it is not always clear whether a particular language uses the former or the latter.

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic kalu [kʰälu] 'bride' May be realized as [a] and [æ] in the Urmia, Nochiya and Jilu dialects. In the Tyari dialect, [ɑ] is usually used.
Bavarian Amstetten dialect[4]
Bengali পা/pa [pä] 'leg' See Bengali phonology
Catalan[5] sac [s̠äk] 'sack' See Catalan phonology
Chinese Cantonese /saa1 [sä̝ː˥] 'sand' Somewhat raised. See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin /tā  [tʰä˥]  'he' Varies between front and back. See Mandarin phonology
Czech[6][7][8] prach [präx] 'dust' See Czech phonology
Danish Standard[9][10] barn [ˈb̥äːˀn] 'child' Most often transcribed in IPA with ɑː - the way it is realized in the conservative variety.[11] See Danish phonology
Dutch Standard[12][13] zaal [zäːɫ] 'hall' Ranges from front to central;[14] in non-standard accents it may be back. See Dutch phonology
Amsterdam[15] bad [bät] 'bath' Also present in many other non-Randstad accents.[15] It corresponds to [ɑ] in Standard Dutch. See Dutch phonology
English Australian[17] car [kʰäː] 'car' See Australian English phonology
Cultivated South African[18] Some speakers. For other speakers, it is less front [ɑ̟ː][18][19] or, in Estuary English, even more back [ɑː].[19]
South African[21]
time [tʰäːm] 'time' Corresponds to the diphthong /aɪ/ in most dialects. General South African speakers may also monophthongize /aʊ/. See English phonology
Southern American[22]
General American[23] cot [kʰäʔt̚] 'cot' It may be more back [ɑ̟ ~ ɑ], especially for speakers with the cotcaught merger. See English phonology
Southern Michigan[24] See English phonology
Multicultural London[25] trap [t̠ɹ̝̊äʔp] 'trap' More front [ɛ ~ æ ~ a] for other Southeastern English speakers. See English phonology
Some speakers from Reading[19]
Northern England[26] [t̠ɹ̝̊äp] Notably prevalent in Yorkshire, mainly around the Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales. More front [æ ~ a] for some other speakers. See English phonology
Vancouver[27] [t̠ɹ̝̊äp̚] See Canadian Shift and English phonology
Younger speakers from Ontario[28]
Finnish[29] kana [ˈkänä] 'hen' Typically transcribed in IPA with ɑ; also described as near-open back [ɑ̝].[30] See Finnish phonology
French[31] patte [pät̪] 'paw' See French phonology
Galician[32] macio [ˈmäθjo] 'soft' See Galician phonology
German Standard[33] Katze [ˈkʰät͡sə] 'cat' See German phonology
Hebrew[34] פח  [päχ]   'garbage can' Hebrew vowels are not shown in the script, see Niqqud and Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustani माता / ماتا [mata] 'mother' See Hindustani phonology
Hungarian[35] láb [läːb] 'leg' See Hungarian phonology
Icelandic[36][37][38][39] fara [ˈfäːrä] 'go' See Icelandic phonology
Italian[40] casa [ˈkäːzä] 'home' See Italian phonology
Japanese[41] ka  [kä]   'mosquito' See Japanese phonology
Limburgish Hamont dialect[3] zaak [zäːk²] 'business' Contrasts with front [] and back [ɑː].[3] See Hamont dialect phonology
Lithuanian namas [ˈnäːmäs] 'house'
Malay api [äpi] 'fire'
Norwegian Sognamål[42] dag [däːɡ] 'day' See Norwegian phonology
Polish[43] kat  [kät̪]  'executioner' See Polish phonology
Portuguese[44] vá [vä] 'go' See Portuguese phonology
Punjabi ਜਾ [d͡ʒäː] 'go!'
Romanian cal [käl] 'horse' See Romanian phonology
Russian там  [t̪äm]  'there' See Russian phonology
Scottish Gaelic slat [slät] 'yard' See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Sema[45] ala [à̠là̠] 'path' Also described as near-open [ɐ].[46]
Serbo-Croatian[47] патка / patka [pâ̠t̪ka̠] 'female duck' See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Slovak[49][50][51] a [ä] 'and' See Slovak phonology
Spanish[52] rata [ˈrät̪ä] 'rat' See Spanish phonology
Sorbian Lower[53] glažk [ɡläʂk] 'glass'
Upper[53][54] ale [ˈälɛ] 'but' See Upper Sorbian phonology
Swedish Central Standard[55] bank [bäŋk] 'bank' Also described as front [a].[56] See Swedish phonology
Turkish[57] at [ät̪] 'horse' Also described as back [ɑ].[58] See Turkish phonology
Vietnamese Hanoi xa [s̪äː] 'far'See Vietnamese phonology
West Frisian laad [ɫäːt] 'drawer'


  1. Geoff Lindsey (2013) The vowel space, Speech Talk
  2. Keating (2012), p. 245.
  3. 1 2 3 Verhoeven (2007), p. 221.
  4. Traunmüller (1982), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:290)
  5. Carbonell & Llisterri (1992), p. 54.
  6. Dankovičová (1999), p. 72.
  7. Pavlík (2004), p. 94.
  8. Šimáčková, Podlipský & Chládková (2012), p. 228.
  9. Grønnum (1998), p. 100.
  10. Basbøll (2005), p. 46.
  11. Ladefoged & Johnson (2010), p. 227.
  12. Gussenhoven (1992), p. 47.
  13. Verhoeven (2005), p. 245.
  14. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 104.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Collins & Mees (2003), p. 131.
  16. Peters (2010), p. 241.
  17. Cox & Palethorpe (2007), p. 344.
  18. 1 2 Lass (2002), pp. 116–117.
  19. 1 2 3 4 Altendorf & Watt (2004), p. 188.
  20. Lodge (2009), p. 168.
  21. Lass (2002), p. 117.
  22. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. ?.
  23. Wells (1982), p. 476.
  24. Hillenbrand (2003), p. 122.
  25. Kerswill, Torgerson & Fox (2006), p. 30.
  26. Boberg (2004), p. 361.
  27. Esling & Warkentyne (1993), p. ?.
  28. Boberg (2004), pp. 361–362.
  29. Maddieson (1984), cited in Suomi, Toivanen & Ylitalo (2008:21)
  30. Suomi, Toivanen & Ylitalo (2008), p. 21.
  31. Fougeron & Smith (1993), p. 73.
  32. Freixeiro Mato (2006), pp. 72–73.
  33. Mangold (2005), p. 37.
  34. Laufer (1999), p. 98.
  35. Szende (1994), p. 92.
  36. Árnason (2011), p. 60.
  37. Einarsson (1945:10), cited in Gussmann (2011:73)
  38. Haugen (1958), p. 65.
  39. "Icelandic Phonetic Transcription.PDF - ptg_ice.pdf" (PDF). Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  40. Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004), p. 119.
  41. Okada (1991), p. 94.
  42. Haugen (2004), p. 30.
  43. Jassem (2003), p. 105.
  44. Cruz-Ferreira (1995), p. 91.
  45. Teo (2014:28)
  46. Teo (2012:368)
  47. Landau et al. (1999), p. 67.
  48. Fast Mowitz (1975), p. 2.
  49. Kráľ (1988), p. 54.
  50. Pavlík (2004), pp. 94–95.
  51. Hanulíková & Hamann (2010), p. 375.
  52. Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003), p. 256.
  53. 1 2 Stone (2002:600)
  54. Šewc-Schuster (1984:20)
  55. Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  56. Thorén & Petterson (1992), p. 15.
  57. Zimmer & Orgun (1999), p. 155.
  58. Göksel & Kerslake (2005), p. 10.
  59. Bamgboṣe (1969), p. 166.


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Further reading

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