Looking at the Danish vowels, it came up with this translation:

a   hat
ɑ   art
ɑː  father
ʌ   off
ɒ   og
ɒː  dog
æ   bet
æː  bed
e   face
ɛ   ?
eː  phase
ɛː  ?
i   leaf
iː  leave
o   oak
ɔ   thought
oː  go
ɔː  ?
ø   nurse
œ   ?
ɶ   ?
øː  fur
œː  ?
ɶː  ?
u   boot
uː  food
y   cute
yː  feud

For Standard German:

a   father, but short
aː  father, but long
ɛ   bet
ɛː  hair
eː  mate
ɪ   sit
iː  seed
ɔ   off
oː  law
œ   hurt
øː  heard
ʊ   push
uː  food
ʏ   cute
yː  few

For Norwegian:

ɑ   art
ɑː  car
æ   trap
æː  mad
e   set (I thought this was "ay" sound)
eː  save
i   hill (I thought IPA was "ee" sound)
iː  need
ɔ   off
ɔː  dog
ø   Burt
øː  bird
u   put (Thought this was the "oo" sound)
uː  fool
ʉ   choose
ʉː  goose
y   hit
yː  leave

Some of these words are used in multiple places, and some of them just seem wrong. The Norwegian one seems very wrong, especially the IPA sounds. Wondering if one could correct this final list using General American English words:

letter  word     standard
------- -------- --------
i       free     +
y       few      +
ɨ       rude     -
ʉ       choose   -
ɯ       goose    -
u       boot     +
ɪ       ?
ʏ       foot     -
ɪ̈       good     -
ʊ̈       good     -
ɯ̽       hook     -
ʊ       hook     +
e       may      +
ø       bird     -
ɘ       nut      -
ɵ       foot     -
ɤ       long ago -
o       go       +
e̞       let      -
ø̞       bird     -
ə       Tina     ~
ɤ̞       plus     -
o̞       thought  -
ɛ       bed      +
œ       bird     -
ɜ       bust     +
ɞ       but      -
ʌ       gut      +
ɔ       thought  +
æ       cat      +
ɐ       nut      -
a       hat      -
ɶ       ?
ä       cot      +
ɒ̈       lot      -
ɑ       hot      +
ɒ       not      -

As you can see, most of these vowel sounds don't have a General American English equivalent. Trying to find a reference point where I can learn the vowel sounds without having to learn a lot of new languages.

  • 2
    Trying to find words in a language which contain sounds that language doesn't use is a non-starter. But Wikipedia lists words from the languages that do use each sound. Is that enough for you?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 19, 2018 at 14:28
  • That's not enough unfortunately, because I need to learn each language in that case :/ The sound bytes Wikipedia has is good enough in that case.
    – Lance
    Sep 19, 2018 at 14:31
  • 2
    As the top row of each table says, these English vowels are approximations, not one-to-one equivalents. In a description of a language's inventory like these, each symbol represents a different value (usually a phoneme or a conditional allophone, but never one specific sound) than that represented by the same symbol in transcription for another language. Danish /ʌ/ and GenAm /ʌ/ are nothing alike, and neither is even close to the cardinal [ʌ].
    – Nardog
    Sep 19, 2018 at 14:34
  • 1
    Your last sentence makes little sense to me. In order to learn (that is, be able to speak fluently) a second language, need one usually learn the vowels first and then grammar and vocabulary?
    – Nardog
    Sep 19, 2018 at 14:42
  • 1
    It's not just that vowels have different values: they have different ranges in different languages, so if you start with sound X of language A, ask speakers of language B what it sounds like, and play the sound (by speakers of B) back to speakers of A, you may end up with a different vowel Y. E.g., American English /ʌ/ is commonly perceived as ㅓ /ʌ ~ ɘ/ by Korean speakers, but when a Korean speaks that vowel, English speakers have trouble telling it from ㅗ /o/.
    – jick
    Sep 19, 2018 at 19:16

1 Answer 1


Especially in the case of vowels, the concept of an "equivalent" is a misconception. At the phonetic level, the Norwegian table is rather wrong, and at the phonological level it is meaningless. But note that they call these things "nearest equivalent", which would mean "thing that is acoustically closest". For example Norwegian æ is really IPA [a] and not [æ], whereas American æ is [æ] (though elsewhere it can be [a]). Norwegian short e is a short diphthong [ɛə̆] or thereabouts, etc. The explication of "u" and "y" is not useful. What would be useful is audio samples of words containing particular vowels. And in the case of Scandinavian languages you need a suggested transcription, because spelling is a bit challenging (the letter "o" can represent a number of different vowel phonemes).

Using English words as a reference point for the phonetics of another language is roughly like trying to understand Java by looking for a Fortran equivalent. If you rely on the authoritative cardinal vowels as promulgated by Daniel Jones, that gives you a standard by which other vowels can be measured. You could also use my pronunciation of vowels as the standard, but Jones' productions are the gold standard in this business. I would point you to this repository, except that it's got 404 disease. This collection is probably more stable. One thing you will note is that there aren't any standards for the vowels "on the inside", such as [ɪ]. (You can also compare pronunciations of IPA symbols including Ladefoged's versions of the whole IPA alphabet, and you can compare three phoneticians performing the vowels here), which reveals some variation in the standard pronunciations (listen to [a, æ]).

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