Theory of Language

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2.15 English Front Vowels

There are five English front vowels.

[] (beet)

[] (wit)
The two high front vowels, both involve moving the tongue forward and up relative to its rest position.

[] (weigh)

[] (let)
are also front vowels, but the tongue is less high in the oral tract.

[] (glass)
is the low front vowel.
Since both [] and [] are high front vowels, we need to identify the articulatory difference that distinguishes them. As it turns out, [] is a bit higher and more forward than [], a contrast that is referred to as the tense/lax distinction. [] is tense in that the root of the tongue is more advanced than with [], which is lax; correspondingly, [] is tense and [] is lax.

The English vowel system also has sequence of back vowels that differ from each other in terms of height and tenseness. In addition, some of the back vowels of English involve rounding the lips--a feature that no English front vowel manifests.

Copyright: 2006