Phonetics - Unit Three - Lesson No. 16

English short and long vowels

English vowels can be classified into three categories: simple vowels, long vowels and diphthongs.These vowels can be seen in Figure (1) below, and they are described below: 

                                       Figure (1): Vowels of English (short and long).

Short vowels

English has 6 short vowels, which are /ɪ, e, æ, ʌ, ɒ, ʊ/. Shorter vowels are only relatively short. They are not absolutely short, though. Each vowel is described in relation to the cardinal vowels.

1. /ɪ/

Although this vowel is in the close front area, it is more open, and nearer into the center. The lips are slightly spread. For example, /bɪt, pɪn, fɪʃ/ for bit, pin, and fish respectively. 

2. /e/

This is a front vowel between cardinal vowel no. 3 [ɛ]. The lips are slightly spread. For example, /bet, men/ for bet and men respectively.

3. /æ/

This vowel is front, but not quite as open as cardinal vowel no. 4 [a]. The lips are slightly spread. For instance, /bæt, mæn/ for bat and man respectively. 

4. /ʌ/

This is a central vowel, and it is more open than the half-open tongue height. The lip position is neutral. Examples include /bʌt, sʌm/ for but and some respectively.

5. /ɒ/

This vowel is not quite fully back, and between half-open and open in tongue height. The lips are slightly rounded. Examples include /pɒt, krɒs/ for pot and cross respectively. 

6. /ʊ/

The nearest cardinal vowel is no. 8 [u]., but it can be seen that this vowel is more open and nearer to central. The lips are rounded.

Long vowels

English has 5 long vowels which are /iː, ɜː, ɑː, ɔː, uː/.

1. / iː/

This vowel is nearer to cardinal vowel no. 1 [i] than the short vowel of bid, pin and fish. It is more close and front. Although the tongue shape is not much different from cardinal vowel number 1, the lips are only slightly spread and this results in a rather different vowel quality. Examples include /biːt, miːn, piːs/ for beat, mean and peace respectively. 

2. / ɜː/

This is a central vowel which is well known in most English accents as a hesitation sound (spelt ‘er’), but which many foreigners find difficult to copy. The lip position is neutral. Examples include /bɜːd, fɜːrn, pɜːs/ for  bird, fern and purse respectively. 

3. /ɑː/

This is an open vowel in the region of cardinal vowel no. 5 [ɑː], but not as back as this. the lip position is neutral. Examples include /kɑːd, hɑːf, pɑːs/ for card, half, and pass respectively. 

4. /ɔː/

The tongue height for this vowel is between cardinal vowel no. 6 [ɔ] and no. 7 [o], and close to the latter. This vowel is almost fully back and has quite strong lip-rounding. Examples include /bɔːd, tɔːn, hɔːs/ for board, torn and horse respectively. 

5. /uː/

The nearest cardinal vowel to this is no. 8 [u], but it is much less back and less close, while the lips are only moderately rounded. Examples include /fuːd, suːn, luːs/ for food, soon and loose respectively.

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