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Close back compressed vowel

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Title: Close back compressed vowel  
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Subject: Close central rounded vowel, Roundedness
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Close back compressed vowel

The close back rounded vowel, or high back rounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨u⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is u.

The IPA prefers terms "close" and "open" for vowels, and the name of the article follows this. However, a large number of linguists, perhaps a majority, prefer the terms "high" and "low".

In most languages this rounded vowel is pronounced with protruded lips ('endolabial'). However, in a few cases the lips are compressed ('exolabial').

Close back protruded vowel

In most languages, close back rounded vowels are pronounced with protruded lips.



Note: Because back rounded vowels are assumed to have protrusion, and few descriptions cover the distinction, some of the following may actually have compression.

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Adyghe дунaй [dunaj] 'world'
Arabic Standard[1] جنوب [d͡ʒæˈnuːb] 'south' See Arabic phonology
Armenian Eastern[2] դուռ [dur] 'door'
Bengali তুমি [tumi] 'you' See Bengali phonology
Catalan[3] suc [ˈsuk] 'juice' See Catalan phonology
Chinese Cantonese /gu1 [kuː] 'mushroom' See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin kū ) 'to cry' See Mandarin phonology
Czech u ) 'at' See Czech phonology
Danish Standard[4] du [d̥u] 'you' See Danish phonology
Dutch Belgian[5] voet [vu̟t] 'foot' More front in Belgium. See Dutch phonology
Netherlandic[6] )
English Canadian boot [bu̟ːˀt] 'boot' Typically more front than cardinal [u]. See English phonology
Cultivated SAE[7]
Singaporean [but]
Pakistani[9] [buːʈ]
Faroese ur [uːɹ] '(wrist-)watch'
Finnish[10] kukka [ˈkukːɑ] 'flower' See Finnish phonology
French[11] ) 'where' See French phonology
Georgian[12] და [ɡudɑ] 'leather bag'
German Standard[13] Fuß ) 'foot' See German phonology
Greek ουρανός uranόs [ˌuraˈno̞s̠] 'sky' See Modern Greek phonology
Hebrew תמונה [tmuna] 'image' Hebrew vowels are not shown in the script, see Niqqud and Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustani اردو / उर्दू [ˈʊrd̪u] 'Urdu' See Hindustani phonology
Hungarian[14] unalmas [ˈunɒlmɒʃ] 'boring' See Hungarian phonology
Irish gasúr [ˈɡasˠuːɾˠ] 'boy' See Irish phonology
Italian[15] tutta [ˈtutta] 'all' (fem.) See Italian phonology
Kabardian дуней [dunej] 'world'
Luxembourgish[16] Luucht [luːχt] 'light'
Macedonian уста [ˈus̪t̪ä] 'mouth' See Macedonian phonology
Malay bulan [bulan] 'moon'
Mongolian[17] үүр [uːɾɘ̆] 'nest'
North Frisian bru [bru] 'bridge'
Polish[18] buk ) 'beech tree' Also represented by ⟨ó⟩. See Polish phonology
Portuguese European[19] urso [ˈuɾsu] 'bear' See Portuguese phonology
Brazilian[20] [ˈuʁsʊ]
Romanian unu [ˈun̪u] 'one' See Romanian phonology
Russian[21] узкий ) 'narrow' See Russian phonology
Scottish Gaelic gu [ɡu] 'to' See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Serbo-Croatian жут / žut [ʒut̪] 'yellow' See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Slovak ruka [ˈruka] 'arm'
Spanish[22] curable [kuˈɾäβ̞le̞̞] 'curable' See Spanish phonology
Thai[23] สุด [sut˨˩] 'rearmost'
Turkish uçak [ut͡ʃak] 'airplane' See Turkish phonology
Udmurt[24] ? [urete] 'to divide'
Ukrainian Умань [ˈumɐnʲ] 'Uman' See Ukrainian phonology
Vietnamese tu [tu] 'to practice asceticism' See Vietnamese phonology
West Frisian sûch [suːχ] 'sow'
Zapotec Tilquiapan[25] gdu [ɡ͡du] 'all'

Close back compressed vowel

Some languages, such as Japanese No language is known to contrast this with the more typical protruded (endolabial) close back vowel.

There is no dedicated diacritic for compression in the IPA. However, the compression of the lips can be shown with the letter ⟨β⟩ as ⟨ɯ͡β̞⟩ (simultaneous [ɯ] and labial compression) or ⟨ɯᵝ⟩ ([ɯ] modified with labial compression). The spread-lip diacritic ⟨  ͍ ⟩ may also be used with a rounded vowel letter ⟨⟩ as an ad hoc symbol.


  • Its vowel height is close, which means the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.
  • Its vowel backness is back, which means the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.
  • Its roundedness is compressed, which means that the margins of the lips approach one another, so that the inner surfaces are not exposed.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Japanese 空気 kūki [kɯːᵝki] 'air' See Japanese phonology
Swedish (dialectical) oro [ɯ̀β̞rɯβ̞] 'unease' Contrasts with a close central and close front compressed vowels in some Swea dialects
Norwegian mot [mɯːᵝt] 'courage' See Norwegian phonology

See also



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