Phonetic symbols for vowels
(as commonly used for languages of Mexico)

Click on any of the phonetic symbols to hear the vowel sound it represents. (The sound files average about 10 Kb in size and may take a few seconds to download.) Click on the technical terms to read a definition. See further notes below.

definition: high definition: mid definition: low definition: (un)rounded definition: front definition: central definition: back definition: close vs. open vowel: i vowel: lax i vowel: e vowel: lax e vowel: ae vowel: u dieresis vowel: o dieresis vowel: barred-i vowel: schwa vowel: barred u vowel: i dieresis vowel: e dieresis vowel: front a vowel: a vowel: back a vowel: u vowel: lax u vowel: o vowel: open o vowel: inverted v
Vowel chart

Notes

Vowel qualities are classified according to tongue position (high/mid/low, closed/open and front/central/back) and rounding of the lips. The vertical position of the tongue (high/mid/low) changes the size of the oral cavity, and its horizontal position (front/central/back) changes the size of the pharyngeal cavity. (See the diagram of the principal organs of articulation.) As these cavities change size, they resonate ("echo") at different frequencies, and it is these resonances (called "formants") which give each vowel its distinctive sound.

The vowel symbols presented here are based on those used by linguists in the Americas (rather than those of the International Phonetic Alphabet), partly because this is the dominant practice for describing languages of Mexico, and partly because the Americanist symbols are easier to represent in web pages. These are also the symbols normally used for phonetic transcription on other pages on the SIL-Mexico website. (We have, however, arranged the symbols in a diagram that is more like what the IPA uses, which better represents the acoustic facts, rather than the rectangular grid usually used to present Americanist symbols.)

Most of the materials published in indigenous languages of Mexico are not published in phonetic transcription but in a practical orthography, which, besides reflecting the sound system of the language, must also take into account the practical requirements of typewriters, the preferences of native speakers, and other factors. (For further information, see How the Summer Institute of Linguistics has developed orthographies for indigenous languages of Mexico.) The vowel symbols in practical orthographies in Mexico are usually selected from those presented here, but are not necessarily used with exactly the same meaning. For example, both the symbols and are commonly used interchangeably to represent a low central vowel. (In fact, they are often used this way even in phonetic transcription, if, as is normally the case, a language does not have a front low vowel.)

See also:

(Part of the Electronic glossary of linguistic terms
by J. Albert Bickford and David Tuggy)