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I know that /ɑː/ is open back unrounded vowel and is found a lot in British English. It is the vowel in bath, father, bar, car etc in British English. In American English, this vowel is found in bar, father, car (but not bath!).

But when I listen to the audio given in Wikipedia, IPA chart website and this IPA chart website, I feel that pronouncing the vowel exactly like /ɑː/ would sound stilted.

I listened to many British people when pronouncing this vowel and they do not sound like this at all to me (non-native). If I heard them correctly, they were pronouncing /ɑː/ as not [ɑː] but something more relaxed or at least not that back and long as the audios in the above websites suggest.

Bath: Cambridge Dictionary, Lexico powered by Oxford: the word "bath" is pronounced not with [ɑː] but something more relaxed than [ɑː]. I tried to pronounce it with [ɑː] but it sounds unnatural.

Question: Do British people usually pronounce /ɑː/ as [ɑː] or relaxed and shorter than [ɑː]? Am I hearing them correctly?

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  • There is a criterion of relative length for [ɑ:], as for all long vowels: it shortened before fortis consonants [t,k,p, …] and has its normal length before the others (lenis consonants). – LPH Jan 11 at 14:43
  • I don't believe that IPA has a set length for [ɑ:]. All that this notation really means is that /ɑ:/ is pronounced longer than a short vowel like /ʌ/. And this is certainly true in British English — for some speakers, the principal difference between /ʌ/ and /ɑ:/ is the length. – Peter Shor Jan 11 at 16:40
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As a native speaker of British English (Surrey), I pronounce all those words with a fronted vowel [ɑ̟]. It's also a bit raised. In fact, all the people around me pronounce them with [ɑ̟]. [ɑː] is considered too "posh" in my neck of woods.

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  • What is meant by "raised"? – Sphinx Jan 17 at 9:32
  • @Sphinx - it means the tongue is positioned a bit higher in the mouth (more towards high vowels). – BrLn Jan 22 at 12:25

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