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The cardinal vowel No.4 [a] pronounced by Daniel Jones and some other linguistics sounds more like /æ/ as in cat.

but this cardinal vowel pronounced in the IPA website(by 4 speakers) sounds more like /ɑ/ as in father,

what is the correct way to pronounce this vowel?

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    You mean this page? They all pronounce [a] as front. If it sounds like the PALM vowel to you, I assume it's either because you speak a dialect that has a fronted PALM (as in Inland North) or simply because it's pronounced in isolation, which English /æ/ never is.
    – Nardog
    Aug 2 at 7:29
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    Daniel Jones' demonstration sounds a bit higher, but not more back, than the modern phoneticians on the IPA site, but that's likely because he "had a shorter than average vocal tract" and the formants do show rather high F2.
    – Nardog
    Aug 2 at 7:30
  • To Nardog: thanks for your comment, I have read your research article and will read it more carefully. from acoustic perspective: This is Daniel Jones’ pronunciation: youtube.com/watch?v=6UIAe4p2I74 and this is another speaker at the The Virtual Linguistics Campus: youtube.com/watch?v=xa5bG_wrK7s both quite different from those at the IPA website and sound more like /æ/ as in cat, why? they both have shorter vocal tracts?
    – hangover
    Aug 3 at 13:27

1 Answer 1

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The four corner vowels have a special place, because they were defined by Jones in terms of "extremes". Other vowels are (poorly) defined in terms of auditory interpolation between physically-fixed positions. IMO, Esling and House are closer to each other in those productions of [a, æ], and Ladefoged is most divergent. We have single tokens of each vowel: we would want multiple tokens, in order to factor out random speaker variation.

One factor that should be considered in understanding expert performances is "actual language experience". It is well-known that the vowel conventionally transcribed as [a] is actually produced quite differently across languages. Actual (extensive) experience with "a" in Italian can influence one's pronunciation of IPA [a]. The vowel [a] really represent a range of possible formants, not a single precise point, likewise the less-clear vowel [æ]. Ladefoged's performance of [æ] is distinctly more-American (West Coast) sounding, which should not be surprising given where he lived. If we had recordings of Catford's pronunciations, we could get a fifth opinion.

Some variability may be because of vocal tract properties of a particular performer, but the main source of variability is the small set of defining reference samples. For example, as far as we know, there is exactly one set of Ladefoged IPA recordings. By convention, the IPA (organization) gets to sanction particular performances and ignore others. It might be of interest to you to read Ladefoged's (1959) dissertation, where he collects measurements from expert performers who were "closer" to Jones, which may enable you to get a better understanding of the range covered by IPA vowels (with less passage of time since initial training).

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  • Pronunciations of /æ/ are really quite different, Ladefoged’s seems to be “correct” to foreign students. By contrast, Pronunciations of cardinal vowel No. 1-3 by the 4 speakers are quite similar ( with my ears). How to get access to Ladefoged’s dissertation, is there an electronic form?
    – hangover
    Aug 5 at 10:26

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