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. . . alibis . . . appetite . . . rather . . . Mark . . . [audio source]

The first two a’s are different in their phonetic symbols in the dictionaries from the other two, but I can’t differentiate. What’s the difference between /ӕ/ and /ɑ/?

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What do you mean by “alphabets” here? I do not think that that word means what you think it means. –  tchrist Feb 8 '13 at 2:21
    
Perhaps this site will help. Go to the American English page; you will find /ӕ/ under 'monophthongs/front' and /ɑ/ under 'monophthongs/back'. May we know your native language? That may help someone refer to sounds in your language. –  StoneyB Feb 8 '13 at 2:23
    
@tchrist: I edited some letters. –  Listenever Feb 8 '13 at 2:31
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I think these four words are really a bad place to start listening for this particular difference. The vowel in alibi is changed slightly by the 'l' after it, and the vowel in Mark is changed slightly by the 'r' after it. Find a website which gives you comparisons between these vowels where none of the words has an 'l' or 'r' following the vowel, and maybe you'll be able to hear the difference then. –  Peter Shor Feb 8 '13 at 2:52
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

æ

The near-open front unrounded vowel, or near-low front unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨æ⟩, a lowercase ae ligature. Both the symbol and the sound are commonly referred to as “ash”.

ɑ

The open back unrounded vowel, or low back unrounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɑ⟩. . . .

So one is a front vowel and the other is a back vowel. They also differ in their degree of openness.

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I’ve already read what you introduced. What I want to know is whether the examples are differentiated by that guide. Are you sure that the examples are matched with the Wikipedia’s explanations? –  Listenever Feb 8 '13 at 2:42
    
@Listenever Are you saying you cannot hear the difference between the “a” vowels in Mark and appetite? Perhaps they are not phonemically distinct sounds in your language, but they are in English. –  tchrist Feb 8 '13 at 2:43
    
No, I can’t. That’s why I made my representing name, Lestenever. I guess it needs lots of time to hear the difference. Thank you. –  Listenever Feb 8 '13 at 2:51
    
@Listenever You might do better listening to recordings specially prepared to illustrate minimal pairs. One such pair might be pad, as in a pad of paper and which has the /æ/ vowel, and “Pad Thai” the dish as pronounced by English-speakers, which has the /ɑ/ vowel. –  tchrist Feb 8 '13 at 3:01
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For example, American English phonemes are displayed here. –  John Lawler Feb 8 '13 at 4:06
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