I'm reading Ann Cook's book on American Accent Training and she says:

æ is a combination of the tense vowel /a:/ and lax vowel /e/

Is this a true statement? I tried hard but I couldn't glide into that. from /a:/ to /e/ in order to produce /æ/

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    No, that's not correct. No vowel is a combination of any other vowels. That's rather a nonsensical way of describing it. Each vowel is produced in a particular area in the oral cavity; you can't ‘combine’ them. (You should also be aware that /e/ in some IPA schemes for English is a tense vowel phoneme, phonetically /eɪ/ whereas the lax one is /ɛ/, so to call it the “lax vowel /e/” is potentially confusing or misleading too.) Oct 16, 2016 at 19:04
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I put it right. /a:/ and lax vowel /ɛ/. so, what are you saying is that two vowel sounds can't be made at once. but what about /eɪ/ or /oɪ/ or respectively /ey/ and /ɔy/. Is this because of y Oct 16, 2016 at 19:16
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    Those are diphthongs: they're two separate vowels pronounced right after each other, one gliding gradually into the other. They're not pronounced simultaneously or combined into one—that would indeed be impossible. You can say that a vowel is physiologically between two other vowels (e.g., /ɛ/ is halfway between /i/ and /a/ in straight-up IPA because the three differ essentially only in how high in your mouth your tongue is: high for /i/, mid for /ɛ/, low for /a/); but it can't be a combination of them. Oct 16, 2016 at 19:24
  • @JanusBahsJacquet for sum up: I found that æ is monophthong and can't be glided but diphthongs glidable! So this book has problems. another statement: /ʊ/ is ih + uh ===> /ʊ/ is /ɪ/ + /ə/ Oct 16, 2016 at 19:34
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    That is another odd description. Presumably, she means that the "height" of the vowel /ʊ/ is about the same as /ɪ/, while its level of "frontness" is about the same as /ʌ/. All three sounds are monophthongs.
    – herisson
    Oct 16, 2016 at 19:44

1 Answer 1


I think that's a confusing way to explain the sound of /æ/, though not categorically wrong. Like /a/, /æ/ is made with the lower jaw descended relative to other vowels. /a/ and /æ/ are both slightly nasalized. Like /e/, /æ/ is pronounced with the tongue body pulled forward (while /a/ has the tongue body in more of a neutral position). As others have pointed out, both /æ/ and /e/ pattern phonologically with the lax vowels (which only very rarely appear at the end of a word).

  • @tchrist: the symbol "e" in IPA close phonetic transcription represents a tense vowel. In phonemic transcription of specific languages, /e/ can represent vowels of various qualities. In this case, it is apparently being used to represent the vowel phoneme found in the English word "dress," which is generally classified as phonologically lax.
    – herisson
    Oct 16, 2016 at 20:46
  • @suməlic Dress has the lax vowel /ɛ/, unlike days or dairy which have the tense vowel /e/.
    – tchrist
    Oct 16, 2016 at 20:47
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    @tchrist: I'm aware that some people use these symbols that way. They are also used in other ways. For example, John Wells used /e/ to represent the "dress" vowel. Since he was at one point the president of the International Phonetic Association, I don't think his use of the International Phonetic Alphabet can be easily dismissed as non-standard.
    – herisson
    Oct 16, 2016 at 20:53
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    You do have a point about “strictly speaking”, since we could argue that /drɛs/ misrepresents the rhotic as a full trilled [r] when it is almost never more than [ɹ], let alone the commonly heard [d͡ʒɻʷɛs]. Still, everything I’ve looked at has /drɛs/ or /dɹɛs/ there, including Oxford, Collins, Wiktionary, and Wikipedia.
    – tchrist
    Oct 16, 2016 at 21:44

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