I am trying to contrast the vowel systems of English and Spanish, and showing two vowel trapezoids seems like a good approach. I've not yet found one yet. Any ideas?

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    Section 3.3 of How Language Works may be what you are looking for. Apr 1, 2013 at 16:11
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    That's a good resource. It's important to recognize, however, that, while the Spanish non-low vowel phonemes /i e o u/ use tense vowel symbols -- and are normally tense in open syllables -- they have lax allophones in closed syllables. This is why Spanish speakers have so much trouble with the English tense-lax vowel constrasts like sheep and ship; Spanish doesn't use tense vowels in closed syllables, nor lax vowels in open ones.
    – jlawler
    Apr 1, 2013 at 19:07
  • @jlawler, your comment confuses me. To me, tenseness is a phonemic concept, but in Spanish tenseness is not phonemic. Anyway, assuming you mean that vowel phonemes are realized differently in open and closed syllables in Spanish, do you have any support for that statement? While I think it might be true for certain dialects, I've never heard that about (or noticed it in) standard Castilian (as spoken in Spain).
    – dainichi
    Apr 2, 2013 at 10:28
  • There are more than two allophones, of course, but tenseness is indeed phonetic; it has to do with the tension in the muscle bundles at the root of the tongue. This can be demonstrated easily. In Spanish tenseness is not phonemic, and therefore is not recognized, just like English speakers never notice the [i] at the end of eh /e/, because it's automatic. As for sources, googling "Spanish vowel allophone lax tense" turned up this, among others. At the bottom of p. 6 there's a statement that Spanish laxes vowels in closed syllables.
    – jlawler
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:09
  • @jlawler, FWIW, the wikipedia article about tenseness (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenseness) agrees with me: "Some languages like Spanish are often considered as having only tense vowels, but since the quality of tenseness is not a phonemic feature in this language, it cannot be applied to describe its vowels in any meaningful way." The paper you link to looks interesting, but talks about Eastern Andalusian in particular, so I'm curious whether anything similar can be said for Spanish in general.
    – dainichi
    Apr 3, 2013 at 0:07

1 Answer 1


I've made the trapezium from Otavio Macedo's comment in LaTeX and uploaded it here. It looks a little nicer now, and you can copy, save or snip it. Here is a preview:

enter image description here

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    I added the image to the answer itself, if you don't mind. Apr 3, 2013 at 11:47
  • Not at all. Thank you Apr 3, 2013 at 19:22
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    If you want to re-use the image and change the symbols, you can use the vowel and tipa packages in LaTeX. You can find my example of the code and the result here.
    – edominic
    Apr 4, 2013 at 8:34
  • @KleinePrins does the vowel package create vowel trapeziums automatically? I don't see anything else in the code that would make the structure. You could use tikz and draw some arrows within the vowel environment to show diphthongs if you wanted to as well, I take it? Apr 4, 2013 at 22:11
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    @DangerFourpence Update: I found an improvement to the vowel package. This one allows drawing arrows inside the chart! Source
    – edominic
    Apr 5, 2013 at 19:27

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