I experience that most analyses of many languages that I know, in particular Swedish, (Flemish) Dutch, Norwegian and Icelandic, analyse the languages' short ⟨e⟩ as /ɛ/, while they sound a lot more like [e̞]. Is there any reason for this, other than avoiding diacritics? I feel like the distinction is required, since they are clearly different sounds to me.

  • 2
    Because it’s easier to type? A lot of these languages have only one unrounded front vowel in the ‘middle’ area (i.e., neither closed nor open), which tends to actually be mid. IPA has simple symbols for mid-open and mid-closed, but requires diacritics for mid, so it’s common to use one of the simple symbols. Whether you want to stress identity with or difference from a corresponding long vowel probably influences the choice (i.e., /e e:/ makes the short/long pair in Norwegian look more similar than they actually are). May 4, 2022 at 18:57
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Sure, but what about in Swedish where /ɛ/ and /ɛ:/ now look misleadinɡly similair?
    – Masimatutu
    May 4, 2022 at 19:18
  • Swedish has short /e ɛ/ and long /eː ɛː/ – I don’t see what’s misleading about the parallel there? May 4, 2022 at 20:04
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Most analyses have one short ⟨e⟩, which is analysed as /ɛ/.
    – Masimatutu
    May 5, 2022 at 4:50
  • I’ll admit I’m not overly familiar with phonological analyses of Swedish. How do those analyses account for the difference in minimal pairs like skedda /ɧedːa/ ‘happened’ (pl.part.) and skädda /ɧɛdːa/ ‘dab, flounder’ (fish)? Do they consider one of them to be underlyingly long and shortened due to some rule? May 5, 2022 at 8:54

1 Answer 1


I don't know of any evidence that the Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian or Icelandic languages analyze any vowels as [ɛ] or [e̞], and I don't know what it would mean for a language to analyze a vowel as /ɛ/ or /e̞/. Conceivable you could find evidence for analyzing a vowel as /ɛ/ as opposed to /e/, for example if there is also a contrast between /o/ and /ɔ/ and the front vowel behaves like /ɔ/ rather than /o/. However, a linguist may state that a particular vowel in a language is /ɛ/ or /e̞/, and then you could ask "Why A and not B?". In the case of Norwegian, there are many reasonable ways to phonetically write "e" such as e, ɛ, e̞ and even ɛə. Some people feel that one should use the IPA transcription that most-closely matches expert pronunciations, which would argue against e. Not everybody agrees with that position.

A second consideration is that IPA disprefers diacritics, which argues against . The idea that the IPA letter [ɛ] has an exact pronunciation is incorrect, a letter represents a range, which is exemplified in expert tokens. In this one specific instance, you can compare 3 of 4 expert's versions of [ɛ] vs [e̞], because the lowered diacritic is in fact exemplified with e and β. But in general, there are no reference examples for diacritically-modified segments.

The best way to find out why a linguist decided on one transcription rather than another is to simply ask them. Before asking, you should think through the logic of the presumption that /e̞/ is better.

  • To which one might add that [e̞] is effectively equivalent to [ɛ̝]! May 6, 2022 at 15:53

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