Phonetics - Unit Three - Lesson No. 15

Cardinal Vowels

Cardinal vowels are a standard reference system, and these vowels are not the vowels of any particular language. The sounds of any language can be described in relation to these cardinal vowels. Learning the cardinal vowels does not entail learning the vowels of English, Arabic or any other language. Rather, it is learning about the range of vowels that the human vocal apparatus can make, and also learning a useful way of describing, classifying and comparing the vowels of any language.

Cardinal vowels can be divided into two groups: primary cardinal vowels and secondary cardinal vowels. Primary cardinal vowels are those vowels which are familiar to most of the speakers of European languages. Secondary cardinal vowels are less familiar to speakers of European languages.

                                          Figure (1): Primary cardinal vowels

Primary cardinal vowels are eight in number and they are described below:

1. [i]

Cardinal vowel number 1, is defined as the vowel which is as close and as front as possible to make a vowel without obstructing the flow of air enough to friction noise. 

2. [e]

Cardinal vowel number 2 is close-mid and front. 

3. [ɛ]

Cardinal vowel number 3 is open-mid and front. 

4. [a]

Cardinal vowel number 4 is fully open and front. 

5. [ɑ]

Cardinal vowel number 5 is defined as the most open and back vowel that is possible to make. 

6. [ɔ]

Cardinal vowel number 6 is open-mid and back. 

7. [o]

Cardinal vowel number 7 is close mid and back. 

8. [u]

Cardinal vowel number 8, is fully close and back . 

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