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In a similar question which asks the difference between /ə/ and /ʌ/, I learned that /ʌ/ occurs in stressed syllables. Now there is another similar vowel sound: /ɐ/ which also occurs in stressed syllables.

I don't know the difference between /ɐ/ and [ɐ] yet but I am only concerned about the sounds they give whether it is "[ɐ] and [ʌ]" or "/ɐ/ and /ʌ/"

In Wikipedia, [ɐ] is given in many varieties of English like California, Cockney, East Anglia, New Zealand, Received pronunciation and some other Englishes. As an example in Received Pronunciation, the example given in wikipedia is "nut" and transcription: "[nɐʔt]" whereas an example of [ʌ] is "gut" transcription: "[ɡʌt]".

I would expect both "gut" and "nut" to have the same vowel but I don't know which vowel they have. Assuming that wikipedia is not so reliable, I consulted Cambridge dictionary which gives /ʌ/ for both "gut" and "nut".

One of my friends told me that the pronunciation of the word "cut" as given in the Cambridge Online Dictionary uses [ɐ] but when I hear both [ʌ] and [ɐ], they sound the same to me.

The name of /ɐ/ is Near-open central vowel and /ʌ/ is Open-mid back unrounded vowel but is there any difference between both of them? Which one does standard Englishes use? And how do you perceive the difference?

I need to know the difference between ɐ and ʌ (I am not concerned about the brackets). Can anyone enlighten me on this please?

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  • Relatively few people pronounce the phoneme /ʌ/ with the IPA phone [ʌ] today; the symbol is a relic of an archaic pronunciation used by upper-class speakers in England a century ago. General American uses a vowel close to /ə/ (but not all Americans do; for instance, I don't). Many varieties of British English use a vowel close to /ɐ/. Sep 29, 2020 at 11:58
  • Did you really mean /ɐ/, or did you just mean [ɐ]? Your title seems like it is confusing broadly abstract phonemic transcription with narrow and technical literal phonetic transcription. If there is no minimal pair where you swap one for another (like swapping the /ʌ/ in one word for the /ɐ/ in another), then it is not a phoneme in the language. For example, the words nut and not are distinguished by their contrasting vocalic phonemes, no matter the phones they actually show up with in any given dialect.
    – tchrist
    Sep 29, 2020 at 12:32
  • Compare the different pronunciations of THUNDER adn BROTHER with those of FATHER and WASH. And no, those aren't usually all the same.
    – tchrist
    Sep 29, 2020 at 12:44
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    @Sphinx: The phoneme in cut is /ʌ/. But different people pronounce this phoneme differently. The actual sound (phone) people say when pronouncing this phoneme is [ɐ] or [ə] or [ʌ] or [ɑ] or [ɜ]. In British English, the last two may be distinguished from the vowels of start and nurse, [ɑː] and [ɜː], mainly by their length. Sep 30, 2020 at 12:59
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    So /·/ means the phoneme, which can be pronounced differently in different dialects, while [·] means the actual vowel sound you produce when pronouncing a word. Sep 30, 2020 at 13:04

1 Answer 1

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Either [ɐ] or [ʌ] is possible: there is not a contrast, and there is not a specific quality that must be used in standard English. (The concept of "standard" is very unclear as applied to pronunciation, actually.) Since it is one phoneme, it should be transcribed in a phonemic transcription with one symbol, but you can choose whether you want that symbol to be /ɐ/, /ʌ/, or even /ə/ (if you are transcribing an accent where there is not a contrast between /ɐ~ʌ/ and /ə/).

The IPA defines [ʌ] as an open-mid back vowel, and [ɐ] as a near-open central vowel. These refer to the position of "reference vowels" which are located in a continuous "vowel space": there are similar vowels with slightly more or less degrees of front/back-ness or open/close-ness. Very often in English, the same vowel phoneme can be realized with different levels of frontness depending on the speaker, or depending on the context. For example, I am fairly certain that I use a back vowel in words like gull or hull: in my accent, syllable-final /l/ is a "dark l" that has a backing effect on the preceding vowel. I think it's possible that I use a less back vowel, maybe closer to /ɐ/, in a word like shun.

Since they do not contrast, English speakers will generally not hear any difference. You would need to go through phonetic training or use speech analysis software such as Praat to determine whether the vowel in a particular utterance is phonetically closer to IPA [ɐ] or [ʌ], or some third option (like an open-mid central vowel [ɜ] or near-open back vowel [ʌ̞]). Since the symbols of the IPA have an arbitrary/conventional relationship to the sounds, different linguists draw the boundaries between IPA letters in different places.

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  • By "standard", I mean the English spoken in the U.S.A. and U.K and the pronunciations present in some famous online dictionaries such as Cambridge Dictionary I used. Thanks for explaining it painstakingly!
    – user387044
    Oct 11, 2020 at 8:01
  • @Sphinx: I listened to a few different words with /ʌ/ in the Cambridge Learner's Dictionary, and their speakers don't all pronounce this vowel the same. So I don't think you can say there's a "standard" British pronunciation anymore. Maybe there was back in the days when the BBC made sure their broadcasters all sounded alike. Oct 11, 2020 at 11:09
  • @Sphinx: The pronunciation that often stumps me as an American is [ɑ], where puck [pɑk] is distinguished from park [pɑːk] mainly by being shorter (it's also slightly more central). Luckily, most Brits don't use this pronunciation. Oct 11, 2020 at 11:32
  • May I ask one more question? How to represent a vowel in which the mouth is more open? Is there any diacritic for representing a vowel that is of the same quality but the mouth is a bit more open than the original. If I pronounce /ʌ/ but with the mouth a bit more open, what diacritic should I use, please?
    – user387044
    Oct 13, 2020 at 7:01
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    @Sphinx You'd use the downtack diacritic. See "lowered vowel" at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_articulation
    – Sabrina
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:37

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