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I have heard sometimes the [æ] vowel in either concil [kaʊnsl/kounsəl] or counsellor [kaʊnsələ(r)/kouns(ə)lər], as in this British pronunciation of counsellor. It sounds rather like cat [kæt] than cow [kau], but I'm not sure if it's really [æ]+[u]. Am I hearing wrong?

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In your link, the [a] from the British /aʊ/ is certainly much longer than the American one, and perhaps a little bit more front, but not to the point that I would classify it as [æ].

If you are interested in hearing what that diphthong would sound like with a true [æ] nucleus, it is supposedly realized as [æɔ] in Australian English (here is one source on that, and here is an archive of recordings of a text from different English dialects, including Australian).

A similar pronunciation also occurs in certain regions of the USA. For instance (according to Labov, cited in this Wikipedia article) /aʊ/ is fronted to [æʊ] in Midland American English.

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I understand it's not really classified as [æ].Then what do we call this British pronunciation of [aʊ] as in OED? It's neither Australian nor Midland American English but presumably standard British English. I actually hear the same [aʊ] pronunciation here in New York where some people say either council, counsel or counselor in much like [æ] + [u] sound. – wordsalad May 15 '14 at 2:06
You can call it anything you want, really - IPA symbols are just notation, and get used in different conventional ways by different people. The IPA has a diacritic for fronting, a + under the character, so perhaps you could write the diphthong as [a̟ʊ] to show that it's slightly fronted. – alcas May 15 '14 at 2:10

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