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In learning Lao one of the tricky things For a native English speaker is the two vowels that we don't have in English and sound very similar to us. This is compounded by the fact that both exist in short and long forms.

So I'm actually looking for a minimal "quartet" ideally, and because Lao has five or six tones it's important that only the vowels contrast and not the tones, which will distract my ear and my attempts at pronunciation.

The vowel sounds in question:

  • /ɯ/ Lao orthography ກຶ Latin transliteration u or ue
  • /ɯː/ Lao orthography ກື Latin transliteration u or ue
  • /ɤ/ Lao orthography ເກິ Latin transliteration eu or oe
  • /ɤː/ Lao orthography ເກີ Latin transliteration eu or oe

(I've arbitrarily used as the base consonant. Vowel length is unfortuately not reflected in the common transliteration schemes.)

I realize it's not always possible to find perfect minimal pairs and that's going to be even harder with four contrasting sounds rather than two, so "near minimal pairs" are acceptable. I'd prefer short common words that I'll be able use.

(There are also diphthongs with each vowel followed by schwa: /ɯə/, /ɯːə/, /uə/, and /uːə/ so bonus points if you can include those!)

  • There are some videos on Youtube containing actual pronunciation, like this one. Basically, ɯ is pretty much like the vowel in Irish English this, while ɤ is close to Australian English ə as in bird. – bytebuster Oct 11 '13 at 7:27
  • @bytebuster: This is the problem with learning foreign pronunciation via English. I don't have access to Irish English right now and there is no schwa in Australian English "bird". In broad IPA it would be /ɜː/ but in narrow IPA I've seen all kinds of stuff. In American English the vowel could be a schwa, but a rhotacised one. Lao even has a schwa that contrasts with ɤ but I think it's only used in diphthongs. – hippietrail Oct 11 '13 at 7:35
  • What I'd really like is some words I can write down and ask a local informant to help me practice so I can alternate back and forth between two I'm having difficulty with to contrast the differences. – hippietrail Oct 11 '13 at 7:37

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