How Many Vowels in the English Language?

No, the answer is not: “Five: a, e, i, o u.” Granted, in traditional English spelling those are the vowel letters, yes, but I’m talking about our spoken language: How many significant vowel sounds are there? Well, if you consult any popular American English dictionary, and study the Pronunciation Key, there will be a long list of vowels. In the Pronunciation Key to the American Heritage Dictionary, 19 different vowel symbols are listed (not counting the ones only used in foreign words)! However, some of these are special vowels that only occur before the /r/ sound, which are “colored” by the /r/, so these can be separated out as special cases. And one of these vowels, /ə/, only occurs in weak syllables (completely unstressed syllables), never in stressed syllables, so it also can be separated out as a special case. This leaves us with 15 vowels that can occur in stressed syllables. Very few North American English speakers have all of these vowels: Many have 14 (lacking the /ä/ vowel), and many have only 13 (lacking both /ä/ and /ô/). New York City has 16 vowels, the 15 in the American Heritage list plus one that is not usually listed in dictionary pronunciation guides, which I have chosen to spell /ăə/!


Not five, but considered phonetically there are 19.

Folksonomies: grammar spelling english vowels

/hobbies and interests/reading (0.582624)
/art and entertainment/music/singing (0.422835)
/art and entertainment/books and literature (0.381339)

vowels (0.987762 (negative:-0.701014)), stressed syllables (0.868332 (negative:-0.509182)), significant vowel sounds (0.832891 (neutral:0.000000)), different vowel symbols (0.816933 (neutral:0.000000)), completely unstressed syllables (0.816100 (negative:-0.537375)), special vowels (0.770772 (neutral:0.000000)), Pronunciation Key (0.753875 (neutral:0.000000)), traditional English spelling (0.718976 (neutral:0.000000)), dictionary pronunciation guides (0.708420 (neutral:0.000000)), popular American English (0.701034 (neutral:0.000000)), weak syllables (0.691324 (negative:-0.514376)), vowel letters (0.690446 (neutral:0.000000)), American Heritage Dictionary (0.687820 (neutral:0.000000)), New York City (0.684487 (neutral:0.000000)), North American English (0.668558 (neutral:0.000000)), American Heritage list (0.668034 (neutral:0.000000)), /ä/ vowel (0.646249 (negative:-0.566654)), English Language (0.580078 (neutral:0.000000)), foreign words (0.565009 (neutral:0.000000)), long list (0.563251 (neutral:0.000000)), /r/ sound (0.556603 (neutral:0.000000)), special cases (0.554811 (negative:-0.218911)), special case (0.550647 (neutral:0.000000)), answer (0.430378 (negative:-0.485359)), u. (0.429782 (neutral:0.000000)), ones (0.429693 (neutral:0.000000)), /ə/ (0.426973 (neutral:0.000000))

American Heritage Dictionary:PrintMedia (0.826616 (neutral:0.000000)), American Heritage list:PrintMedia (0.671775 (neutral:0.000000)), North American:FieldTerminology (0.596590 (neutral:0.000000)), New York City:City (0.492463 (neutral:0.000000))

English language (0.965586): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Vowel (0.810423): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
American English (0.697604): dbpedia | freebase | yago
United States (0.494571): website | dbpedia | ciaFactbook | freebase | opencyc | yago
North American English (0.447475): dbpedia | freebase
Canadian English (0.418616): dbpedia | freebase
England (0.404266): website | dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago | geonames
New York City (0.396367): geo | website | dbpedia | freebase | yago | geonames

 How Many Vowels are there in American English?
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Aschmann, Richard P. (2013), How Many Vowels are there in American English?, American English Dialects, Retrieved on 2013-05-07
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  • Folksonomies: language english dialects english language