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If my mouth is open and my tongue is completely relaxed, do I make an [a] or an [ä]? Which one is more common for the TRAP vowel in British English?

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  • Welcome to StackExchange! Given the confusion below, in future I recommend you enclose IPA symbols either in [square brackets] or /slashes/. – Miztli Apr 8 '19 at 12:33
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First, I assume you're using those letters according to older dictionary practices, where "a" is [æ] and "ä" is [ɑ] in contemporary IPA-driven usage. Given the physiological conditions you describe, the vowel you would produce is closer to [ɜ], which might most closely match a UK pronunciation of "bird". Both [æ, ɑ] involve some lowering of the tongue. However, if you open your mouth extremely (all the way), you might coerce a lowered tongue, but it's not clear that you can do that and maintain the presumed "relaxed tongue". In that case, the vowel would be closer to [ɑ], not [æ] which is the "trap" vowel, as opposed to the "bath" vowel [ɑ]. However, there are two front low vowels, [æ] and [a] in IPA, so "trap" might have [æ] or [a]. There are expert reference pronunciations of the IPA letters out there – the problem is that one has to judge whether a given vowel is closer to ideal [a] or ideal [æ]. John Wells has a list of dialects and judgments on phonetic value here.

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    Given that the question is tagged "IPA", I would guess that the question is instead about whether the "trap" vowel in British English is front or central. From what I've read, it can in fact be fairly central. – brass tacks Apr 6 '19 at 17:36
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    Actually I'm talking about [a] and its centralised version [ä]. [æ] is more of an American thing and is found in England as a TRAP vowel maybe only in East Anglia. And [ɑ] is the BATH vowel. I'm talking specifically about the variation of the TRAP vowel in the British accents. – Roney Souza Apr 6 '19 at 17:41
  • You got it right, Sumelic. And I agree, it seems that the central version is more common. – Roney Souza Apr 6 '19 at 17:42
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    Central TRAP is common in the UK overall but not in RP. – Nardog Apr 6 '19 at 18:07
  • Makes sense. Anyway, only a minority speaks RP. Haha. Maybe a pure [a] is more common in women speech? Or doesn't it make sense? – Roney Souza Apr 6 '19 at 18:27

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