5

/ʌ/ cut, hut, bun, nothing, love, enough, flood, does

/ʊ/ put, soot, foot, good, look, cook

To me the ʌ is a more short, low front (unrounded?) vowel, but the vowel /ʊ/ which sounds like "uh" is a short, high back (rounded?) vowel but this difference is only minor that you could probably swap each sound when speaking and get away with it.

For example, pronouncing cut as /kʊt/ "kuht", instead of the short /kʌt/ "kut". I can do this with the other words too: hut, bun, nothing, love etc.

Edit: I'm talking about British English phonology, not American English...

For example in AmE, you can say soot in 2 ways (sʊt and su:t ?), Merriam Webster:

\ ˈsu̇t , ˈsət, ˈsüt \

  • 12
    The difference is not subtle at all. If it is subtle for you, you're a native speaker of a very particular dialect. – RegDwigнt Mar 31 at 18:19
  • 5
    In most American dialects, /ʊ/ is high, back, lax, and rounded; it has a limited distribution, appearing only in stressed syllables. [ʌ] is the allophone of the central phoneme /ə/ that occurs in stressed syllables; it's mid, central, lax, and unrounded. The biggest difference between them in American English is that you round your lips a bit to say [ʊ] and you don't round them to say [ʌ]; that's visible in a mirror. – John Lawler Mar 31 at 18:19
  • 4
    @ukemi root, hoot, boot, toot etc all have the /u:/ phoneme, not the /ʊ/. – Rattler Mar 31 at 18:23
  • 2
    @ukemi Yes I can tell the difference between short ʌ (hut) and long vowel u: (hoot), but not the difference between ʊ/ʌ against long vowel u: – mrcurious Mar 31 at 18:26
  • 4
    The difference between these pairs is not very subtle to my (pretty standard American) ear: putt/put, luck/look, cud/could, pus/puss. If your native language doesn't have both of these vowels, it's not unusual that you can't differentiate between them, but that's a limitation of your ear, rather than the IPA – Juhasz Mar 31 at 18:28
9

The sounds of /ʌ/ and /ʊ/ are only moderately similar from a strictly phonetic point of view. However, in the context of phonology, you might feel like the difference is "[so] minor that you could probably swap each sound when speaking and get away with it" for a couple of reasons:

  • the contrast has a low "functional load": in standard English, /ʊ/ is a rare sound, and there are only a few pairs of words, such as buck and book, that are distinguished solely by the use of /ʌ/ vs /ʊ/. (In other dialects, the same pair of words can be distinguished differently by the use of /ʊ/ vs /uː/.)

  • In some fairly widespread British English dialects, /ʌ/ is not normally used and words that have /ʌ/ in standard English instead have /ʊ/.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    I would suggest using "received pronunciation" which is the correct term for what you call "standard English", as there isn't really a standard English. Alternatively be specific which dialects you mean (ie dialects of Southern England by and large use /ʌ/ and those elsewhere in the UK by and large don't). – Muzer Apr 1 at 10:20
  • @Muzer: while it's true that a single standard of spoken English doesn't really exist, I don't think my wording is so inaccurate in this particular matter. Dictionary transcriptions could be viewed as indicating a certain level of standardization in the assumed inventory of phonemes. I don't want to say "received pronunciation" because that is also a controversial or ill-defined term, and it's narrower than what I mean: not only RP speakers but the majority of speakers of non-RP varieties in Southern England and also in the United States have a distinction between /ʌ/ and /ʊ/. – herisson Apr 1 at 10:58
5

/ʌ/ cut, hut, bun, nothing, love, enough, flood, does

/ʊ/ put, soot, foot, good, look, cook

/ʌ/ sound is very similar to /ə/ sound (schwa). The only difference is that /ʌ/ occurs in syllables that are stressed while /ə/ occurs in syllables that are unstressed.

/ʌ/ is called Open-mid back unrounded vowel. In order to produce /ʌ/ sound, slightly open your mouth (don't stretch out your lips much otherwise you'll be producing /æ/ sound rather than /ʌ/) and drop your jaw ever so slightly, place your tongue between the middle and the back of your mouth. Press down the back of the tongue a little bit and put the tip of your tongue forward (do not touch the top of the mouth) and produce a vowel sound with your mouth. That's /ʌ/ sound.

Examples: But, run, strut, flood, love, luck etc. -> /ʌ/

✥━━━━✥━━━━✥

/ʊ/ are /u:/ are similar but /u:/ is longer than /ʊ/.

/ʊ/ is called Near-close back rounded vowel. In order to make /ʊ/ sound, the corners of the lips come in a little (not too much rounded otherwise you'll be producing /u:/ sound rather than /ʊ/) so the lips flare away from the face, the back of the tongue lifts towards the back of the roof of the mouth, the front of the tongue remains down but it miht be pulled slightly back so it's not touching the bottom teeth. That's /ʊ/ sound.

Examples: Book, foot, put, look etc. -> /ʊ/

✥━━━━✥━━━━✥

In Southern British accent (standard or queen's accent), both /ʊ/ and /ʌ/ are pronounced differently (as I explained above). However, in Northern British accents/ dialects (such as Yorkshire, Manchester, Cumbria), they may be pronounced as /ʊ/. ->>> Click here

This phenomena is called strut-foot merger or cut-foot merger and it is one of the main feature of Northern accents.

So those who have strut-foot merger might pronounce strut and foot with the same vowel sound (/ʊ/). Luck and look the same. Cut and foot etc...

✥━━━━✥━━━━✥

In Northern England and Scotland, as well as some dialects in Ireland, the vowels in FOOT is the same as the vowel in STRUT and FLOOD. Liverpool speakers would pronounce the vowel in FLOOD, RUN and SUN the same way they pronounce it in HOOD, FOOT, and BOOK.

Here's a good explanation about Strut-Foot split in linguistics SE: Link (second answer)

✥━━━━✥━━━━✥

For me, the difference between the two vowel sounds is subtle. You will just need to practise a lot.

✥━━━━✥━━━━✥

(In Game of Thrones, some characters like Ser Devos, Jon Snow, Ygritte, Ned Stark have Northern accents which means they pronounce /ʌ/ and /ʊ/ the same way).

Click here to see how they are articulated. (Sorry, there is no direct link to either of the vowel. Click on the link then; vowels -> monopthongs -> select central for /ʌ/ and back for /ʊ/)

☆━━✥✥✥━━☆☆━━✥✥✥━━☆☆━━✥✥✥━━☆

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    The "cut-foot merger" is not an all-or-nothing thing. For example I would pronounce "cut", "hut", "bun" with the same vowel sound as "put", but not "love," unless I was deliberately imitating an accent where it was pronounced "luv". – alephzero Apr 1 at 11:10
  • 1
    Watch out for GoT comparisons; Brits can usually hear the fakes - Jon & Ygritte have "cod Manchester" accents. Ser Davos does a pretty darn convincing Geordie for an Irishman, so gets the Northern seal of approval from me;) Ned Stark & Robert Baratheon have true, native Yorkshire accents. – Tetsujin Apr 1 at 12:39
  • Even though the IPA symbol [ʌ] signifies an unrounded open-mid back vowel, this is not true for the English /ʌ/ phoneme. Even the Wikipedia link that you provided clarifies that in "transcriptions for English, this symbol is commonly used for the near-open central unrounded vowel". – Schmuddi Apr 1 at 13:32
  • I'm also a bit troubled by your claim that the only difference between /ʌ/ and /ə/ is that the one occurs in stressed and the other in unstressed syllables. Perhaps it's only a question of wording, but while their distribution is indeed mostly complementary, their articulation is usually assumed to be different also. – Schmuddi Apr 1 at 13:36
  • 1
    I'm afraid I don't read phonetics, but Davos, Snow & Stark would not say all of those words the same way as each other, let alone compared to a Southern accent. I'm not knocking your distinction, but people far too easily lump all Northern accents in together - they are not as alike as an RP speaker hears. My partner is 'native RP' if there is such a thing. I'm Yorkshire. She really cannot distinguish most of the vowel differences in different Northern accents. To her, they're all the same. – Tetsujin Apr 1 at 13:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.