I use IPA and oral cavity videos (is this the correct term?) to master phonemes, while I learn second languages. Examples are

Neither sounds like [ə]! ʎ can be analogized most closely to LLI in miLLIon. [ʝ] to "⟨y⟩ in English your, but with stronger friction", or y in you.

Which is the first phone in front? vowel [ɑ] or schwa [ə]?

Why do they preface phones with this vowel [ɑ] or schwa?

1 Answer 1


Many consonant sounds can't be pronounced in isolation. Stops, for example, are defined by completely stopping the airflow—hence the name. And if there's not something else going on at the same time (like air being allowed to flow out through the nose), that sounds like complete silence.

So for consistency, consonants are usually demonstrated by putting them first before a vowel, and then between vowels: [Ca aCa]. The exact vowel used doesn't matter, but is conventionally low and central.

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    The vowel does matter to some degree. Using high front vowels would likely cause some degree of palatalisation, shifting the consonant away from its canonical location, for example – hence the low central vowel, which is least likely to have ‘side effects’. Apr 29, 2022 at 6:20
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    it is somewhat surprising that the pattern [Ca aCa aC] isn't used. Obviously there are plenty of languages with highly restricted codas, but being able to hear the consonant pronounced in coda would certainly be useful
    – Tristan
    Apr 29, 2022 at 8:35
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    @Lambie I think extending an N sound is a lot like humming, which is certainly possible. I've certainly seen English texts use "Nnnnno" to transcribe someone lingering on the N sound to give a hesitant denial.
    – amalloy
    Apr 29, 2022 at 18:12
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    @Amalloy Here was the word: jallapeño. I fail to see how one can extend that ñ sound without the o after it. One thing is what happens in fact and another is a description (your Nnnnno) that missed the sound reality. People seem to have great trouble understanding Draconis' point. Try it: linger on the n in no, as if saying: Nooooo. You can linger on the o, not the n. No sound occurs. The consonants are heard because of the vowels, in effect.
    – Lambie
    Apr 29, 2022 at 20:30
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    @Lambie - [n] and other nasals are sounds that can be pronounced without any vowel, they can be syllabic, even in English 'written' can be pronounced as [ˈɹɪʔ.t̚n̩] with the 2nd syllable [t̚n̩] with the syllabic [n̩] whose only difference from [n] in "no" being the ability to have no vowel around, acoustically the two Ns are the same. Also note that in Standard Chinese (Mandarin) one of the ways to say "yes" is n4 [n̩˥˧], another one is ng4 [ŋ̩˥˧] (these are interjections, no standard Chinese characters for them),
    – Yellow Sky
    May 1, 2022 at 11:37

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