Near-close back rounded vowel

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Near-close back rounded vowel
IPA Number321
Entity (decimal)ʊ
Unicode (hex)U+028A
Braille⠷ (braille pattern dots-12356)
Audio sample

The near-close back rounded vowel, or near-high back rounded vowel,[1] is a type of vowel sound, used in some vocal languages. The IPA symbol that represents this sound is ⟨ʊ⟩. It is informally called "horseshoe u". Prior to 1989, there was an alternate IPA symbol for this sound, ⟨ɷ⟩, called "closed omega"; use of this symbol is no longer sanctioned by the IPA.[2] In Americanist phonetic notation, the symbol ⟨⟩ (a small capital U) is used. Sometimes, especially in broad transcription, this vowel is transcribed with a simpler symbol ⟨u⟩, which technically represents the close back rounded vowel.

Handbook of the International Phonetic Association defines [ʊ] as a mid-centralized (lowered and centralized) close back rounded vowel (transcribed [u̽] or [ü̞]), and the current official IPA name of the vowel transcribed with the symbol ⟨ʊ⟩ is near-close near-back rounded vowel.[3] However, some languages have the close-mid near-back rounded vowel, a vowel that is somewhat lower than the canonical value of [ʊ], though it still fits the definition of a mid-centralized [u]. It occurs in some dialects of English (such as General American and Geordie)[4][5] as well as some other languages (such as Maastrichtian Limburgish).[6] It can be transcribed with the symbol ⟨ʊ̞⟩ (a lowered ⟨ʊ⟩) in narrow transcription. For the close-mid (near-)back rounded vowel that is not usually transcribed with the symbol ⟨ʊ⟩ (or ⟨u⟩), see close-mid back rounded vowel.

In some other languages (such as Bengali, Korean and Luxembourgish)[7][8][9] as well as some dialects of English (such as Scottish)[10][11] there is a fully back near-close rounded vowel (a sound between cardinal [u] and [o]), which can be transcribed in IPA with ⟨ʊ̠⟩, ⟨⟩ or ⟨⟩.

There is even one language (Palula) that contrasts a long near-close back rounded vowel with a short close-mid near-back rounded vowel, but they tend to be transcribed simply as /uː/ and /u/.[12]

A few languages also have the near-close back unrounded vowel (which does not have a separate IPA symbol) in their inventory.

Near-close back protruded vowel[edit]

The near-close back protruded vowel is typically transcribed in IPA simply as ⟨ʊ⟩, and that is the convention used in this article. As there is no dedicated diacritic for protrusion in the IPA, symbol for the near-close back rounded vowel with an old diacritic for labialization, ⟨  ̫⟩, can be used as an ad hoc symbol ⟨ʊ̫⟩ for the near-close back protruded vowel. Another possible transcription is ⟨ʊʷ⟩ or ⟨ɯ̽ʷ⟩ (a near-close back vowel modified by endolabialization), but this could be misread as a diphthong.

The close-mid near-back protruded vowel can be transcribed ⟨ʊ̞ʷ⟩ or ⟨ʊ̫˕⟩, whereas the fully back near-close protruded vowel can be transcribed ⟨u̞ʷ⟩, ⟨ɯ̞ʷ⟩ or ⟨u̫˕⟩.



Note: Because back rounded vowels are assumed to have protrusion, and few descriptions cover the distinction, some of the following may actually have compression.

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Afrikaans Standard[13] Botha [ˈbʊ̞ˑta] 'Botha' Close-mid. Allophone of /ʊə/ in less stressed words, in stressed syllables of polysyllabic words and word-finally when unstressed. In the second case, it is in free variation with the diphthongal realization [ʊə̯ ~ ʊ̯ə ~ ʊə].[13] See Afrikaans phonology
Assamese[14] [orthographic
form needed
[pʊ̞t] 'to bury' Close-mid;[14] also described as open [ɒ].[15]
Bengali[7] তুমি [ˈt̪u̞ˌmiː] 'you' Fully back;[7] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩. See Bengali phonology
Bulgarian[16] абатство [ɐˈbatstvo̝] 'abbey' Fully back; possible realization of unstressed /u/ and /ɔ/ in post-stressed syllables.[16] See Bulgarian phonology
Burmese[17] [orthographic
form needed
[mʊʔ] 'smooth' Allophone of /u/ in syllables closed by a glottal stop and when nasalized.[17]
Chinese Mandarin[18] / hóng About this sound[xʊŋ˧˥] 'red' Fully back; height varies between mid and close depending on the speaker. See Standard Chinese phonology
Shanghainese[19] [kʊ¹] 'melon' The height varies between close and close-mid; contrasts with a close to close-mid back compressed vowel.[19]
Danish Standard[20] mave [ˈmɛːʊ] 'stomach' Phonetic realization of the sequence /və/.[20] See Danish phonology
Dutch Standard Northern[21] oren [ˈʊːrə(n)] 'ears' Allophone of /oː/ before /r/. Can be a centering diphthong [ʊə] instead, especially before coda /r/. See Dutch phonology
Some speakers[22] hok [ɦʊk] 'den' Contrasts with /ɔ/ in certain words, but many speakers have only one vowel /ɔ/.[22] See Dutch phonology
English Australian[23][24] hook [hʊk] 'hook' Also described as close back [u].[25] See Australian English phonology
Welsh[27][28] In Cardiff, it is advanced and lowered to [ɵ], often also with unrounding to [ɘ].[29]
Cockney[30] [ʊʔk] Sometimes fronted to [ʊ̈].[30]
Conservative Received Pronunciation[24] [hʊʔk] Often lowered and advanced to [ɵ], or unrounded to [ɘ]. See English phonology
Multicultural London[31] May be front [ʏ] instead.[31]
New Zealand[32] The height varies between near-close and close-mid; it is unrounded and advanced to [ɪ̈ ~ ɘ] in some lexical items.[33] See New Zealand English phonology
Some Estuary speakers[35] Often advanced to [ʊ̈ ~ ʏ], or advanced and lowered to [ɵ ~ ʏ̞].[35]
General American[4] [hʊ̞k] Close-mid.[4][5][36]
Southern Michigan[36]
Northern England[24][37] [ʊk]
Scottish[10][11] go [ɡo̝ː] 'go' Fully back.[10][11]
Faroese[38] gult [kʊl̥t] 'yellow' See Faroese phonology
French Quebec[39] foule [fʊl] 'crowd' Allophone of /u/ in closed syllables.[39] See Quebec French phonology
Galician[40][41] bebo [ˈbe̞β̞ʊ] 'I drink' Unstressed allophone of /u/ and /o/.[40][41] See Galician phonology
Gayo[42] wuk [ˈwʊk̚] 'hair' Possible allophone of /u/ and /o/; in both cases the backness varies between back and near-back.[42]
German Standard[43][44] Stunde About this sound[ˈʃtʊndə] 'hour' The quality has been variously described as near-close back [ʊ̠][43] and close-mid near-back [ʊ̞].[45] For some speakers, it may be as high as [u].[46] See Standard German phonology
Hindustani[47] गुलाब/گلاب [gʊˈläːb] 'rose' See Hindustani phonology
Hungarian[48] ujj [ʊjː] 'finger' Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩. See Hungarian phonology
Irish Munster[49] dubh [d̪ˠʊvˠ] 'black' Allophone of /ʊ/ between broad consonants.[49] See Irish phonology
Italian Central-Southern accents[50] ombra [ˈo̝mbrä] 'shade' Fully back; local realization of /o/.[50] See Italian phonology
Kaingang[51] [kʊˈtu] 'deaf' Atonic allophone of /u/ and /o/.[52]
Korean[8] 구리 / guri [ku̞ɾi] 'copper' Fully back;[8] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩. See Korean phonology
Limburgish Maastrichtian[6] póp [pʊ̞p] 'doll' Close-mid.[6]
Weert dialect[53] [example needed] Used only by older speakers.[53]
Li'o Ke'o[54] [peru̞ ʔbäʔi] 'a shell' Fully back;[54] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩.
Low German[55] mutt / moet [mʊt] '(he) must'
Luxembourgish[9] Sprooch [ʃpʀo̝ːχ] 'language' Fully back.[9] Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨⟩. See Luxembourgish phonology
Mongolian[56] ус [ʊs] 'water'
Northern Paiute Mono Lake dialect[57] hudziba [hu̞d͡zibɐ] 'bird' Fully back;[57] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩.
Palula[12] [orthographic
form needed
[ˈt̪ʰú̞u̞ɳi̠] 'pillar' Realization of /uː/ and /u/. Near-close back [u̞ː] in the former case, close-mid near-back [ʊ̞] in the latter.[12]
Pashayi Lower Darai Nur dialect[58] صُر [sʊ̞r] 'sun' Close-mid.[58]
Portuguese Brazilian[59] pulo [ˈpulʊ] 'leap' Reduction and neutralization of unstressed /u, o, ɔ/; can be voiceless. See Portuguese phonology
Russian[60] сухой About this sound[s̪ʊˈxʷo̞j] 'dry' Unstressed allophone of /u/.[60] See Russian phonology
Sandawe[61] dtu [tʊ̂] 'come out' Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩.
Saterland Frisian[62] Roop [ʀo̝ːp] 'rope' Phonetic realization of /oː/ and /ʊ/. Near-close back [o̝ː] in the former case, close-mid near-back [ʊ̞] in the latter. Phonetically, the latter is nearly identical to /ɔː/ ([o̟ː]).[62]
Scots Glenoe dialect[63] go [ɡo̝ː] 'go' Fully back.[63]
Rathlin dialect[63]
Shiwiar[64] [example needed] Allophone of /u/.[64]
Sinhalese[65] [example needed] [ɦʊ̜ŋɡak] 'much' Only weakly rounded;[66] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩.
Slovak[67][68] ruka [ˈru̞kä] 'arm' Typically fully back.[67] See Slovak phonology
Sotho[69] potso [pʼʊ̠t͡sʼɔ] 'query' Fully back; contrasts close, near-close and close-mid back rounded vowels.[69] See Sotho phonology
Spanish Eastern Andalusian[70] tus [t̪ʊ̠ː] 'your' (pl.) Fully back. Corresponds to [u] in other dialects, but in these dialects they are distinct. See Spanish phonology
Tamambo[71] culi [xʊli̞] 'to clear land' Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩.
Temne[72] put [pú̞t] 'burst' Fully back;[72] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩.
Tera[73] zuri [zʊri̞] 'fried' Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩.
Turkish[74] buzlu [buz̪ˈl̠ʊ] 'icy' Allophone of /u/ described variously as "word-final"[74] and "occurring in final open syllable of a phrase".[75] See Turkish phonology
Ukrainian[76] Мусій [mʊˈsij] 'Musiy' (name) See Ukrainian phonology
Yoruba[77] [example needed] Near-back or back; typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨ũ⟩. It is nasalized, and may be close [ũ̟ ~ ũ] instead.[77]

Near-close back compressed vowel[edit]

Near-close back compressed vowel

Some languages, such as Norwegian, are found with a near-close back vowel that has a distinct type of rounding, called compressed or exolabial.

There is no dedicated diacritic for compression in the IPA. However, the compression of the lips can be shown with the letter ⟨β̞⟩ as ⟨ɯ̽͡β̞⟩ (simultaneous [ɯ̽] and labial compression) or ⟨ɯ̽ᵝ⟩ ([ɯ̽] modified with labial compression). The spread-lip diacritic ⟨  ͍ ⟩ may also be used with a rounded vowel letter ⟨ʊ͍⟩ as an ad hoc symbol, though technically 'spread' means unrounded.

Only the Shanghainese dialect is known to contrast this with the more typical protruded (endolabial) near-close back vowel, although the height of both of these vowels varies from close to close-mid.[19]

The fully back variant of the near-close compressed vowel can be transcribed ⟨ɯ̞͡β̞⟩, ⟨ɯ̞ᵝ⟩ or ⟨u͍˕⟩.


  • Its vowel height is near-close, also known as near-high, which means the tongue is not quite so constricted as a close vowel (high vowel).
  • Its vowel backness is back, which means the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Unrounded back vowels tend to be centralized, which means that often they are in fact near-back.
  • Its roundedness is compressed, which means that the margins of the lips are tense and drawn together in such a way that the inner surfaces are not exposed.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Chinese Shanghainese[19] [tɯ̽ᵝ¹] 'capital' The height varies between close and close-mid; contrasts with a close to close-mid back protruded vowel.[19]
Norwegian[78][79] ond [ɯ̞ᵝnː] 'evil' The example word is from Urban East Norwegian, in which the vowel has been variously described as near-close back [ɯ̞ᵝ][78] and close back [ɯᵝ].[80] See Norwegian phonology
Swedish Central Standard[81][82] ort About this sound[ɯ̽ᵝʈː] 'locality' The quality has been variously described as near-close near-back [ɯ̽ᵝ],[81] near-close back [ɯ̞ᵝ][82] and close back [ɯᵝ].[83] See Swedish phonology


  1. ^ While the International Phonetic Association prefers the terms "close" and "open" for vowel height, many linguists use "high" and "low".
  2. ^ International Phonetic Association (1999), p. 169.
  3. ^ International Phonetic Association (1999), pp. 13, 170, 180.
  4. ^ a b c Wells (1982), p. 486.
  5. ^ a b c Watt & Allen (2003), p. 268.
  6. ^ a b c Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), pp. 158–159.
  7. ^ a b c Khan (2010), p. 222.
  8. ^ a b c Lee (1999), p. 121.
  9. ^ a b c Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 70.
  10. ^ a b c Scobbie, Gordeeva & Matthews (2006), p. 7.
  11. ^ a b c Lindsey (2012b).
  12. ^ a b c Liljegren & Haider (2009), pp. 383–384.
  13. ^ a b Lass (1987), p. 119.
  14. ^ a b Mahanta (2012), p. 220.
  15. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), pp. 293–294.
  16. ^ a b Ternes & Vladimirova-Buhtz (1999), p. 56.
  17. ^ a b Watkins (2001), p. 293.
  18. ^ Lee & Zee (2003), p. 111.
  19. ^ a b c d e Chen & Gussenhoven (2015), pp. 328–329.
  20. ^ a b Basbøll (2005), p. 58.
  21. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 134, 200–201.
  22. ^ a b van Oostendorp (2013), section 29.
  23. ^ Mannell, Cox & Harrington (2009).
  24. ^ a b c Lindsey (2012a).
  25. ^ Cox & Palethorpe (2007), p. 344.
  26. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 421–422.
  27. ^ Connolly (1990), p. 125.
  28. ^ Tench (1990), p. 135.
  29. ^ Collins & Mees (1990), pp. 92–93.
  30. ^ a b Mott (2011), p. 75.
  31. ^ a b Gimson (2014), p. 91.
  32. ^ Bauer et al. (2007), p. 98.
  33. ^ Bauer et al. (2007), pp. 98, 100–101.
  34. ^ Lodge (2009), p. 168.
  35. ^ a b Altendorf & Watt (2004), p. 188.
  36. ^ a b Hillenbrand (2003), p. 122.
  37. ^ Lodge (2009), p. 163.
  38. ^ Árnason (2011), pp. 68, 75.
  39. ^ a b Walker (1984), pp. 51–60.
  40. ^ a b Regueira (2010), pp. 13–14.
  41. ^ a b Freixeiro Mato (2006), p. 112.
  42. ^ a b Eades & Hajek (2006), p. 111.
  43. ^ a b Kohler (1999), p. 87.
  44. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), pp. 34, 64.
  45. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 34.
  46. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 64.
  47. ^ Ohala (1999), p. 102.
  48. ^ Szende (1994), p. 92.
  49. ^ a b Ó Sé (2000), p. ?.
  50. ^ a b Bertinetto & Loporcaro (2005), p. 137.
  51. ^ Jolkesky (2009), pp. 676–677, 682.
  52. ^ Jolkesky (2009), pp. 676, 682.
  53. ^ a b Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998), p. 110.
  54. ^ a b Baird (2002), p. 94.
  55. ^ Prehn (2012), p. 157.
  56. ^ Iivonen & Harnud (2005), pp. 62, 66–67.
  57. ^ a b Babel, Houser & Toosarvandani (2012), p. 240.
  58. ^ a b Lamuwal & Baker (2013), p. 245.
  59. ^ Barbosa & Albano (2004), p. 229.
  60. ^ a b Jones & Ward (1969), p. 69.
  61. ^ Eaton (2006), p. 237.
  62. ^ a b Peters (2017), p. ?.
  63. ^ a b c Gregg (1953).
  64. ^ a b Fast Mowitz (1975), p. 2.
  65. ^ Perera & Jones (1919), pp. 5, 10.
  66. ^ Perera & Jones (1919), p. 10.
  67. ^ a b Pavlík (2004), pp. 93, 95.
  68. ^ Hanulíková & Hamann (2010), p. 375.
  69. ^ a b Doke & Mofokeng (1974), p. ?.
  70. ^ a b Zamora Vicente (1967), p. ?.
  71. ^ Riehl & Jauncey (2005), p. 257.
  72. ^ a b Kanu & Tucker (2010), p. 249.
  73. ^ Tench (2007), p. 230.
  74. ^ a b Göksel & Kerslake (2005), p. 10.
  75. ^ Zimmer & Organ (1999), p. 155.
  76. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995), p. 4.
  77. ^ a b Bamgboṣe (1969), p. 166.
  78. ^ a b Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 18.
  79. ^ While Vanvik (1979) does not describe the exact type of rounding of this vowel, some other sources (e.g. Haugen (1974:40) and Kristoffersen (2000:16)) state explicitly that it is compressed.
  80. ^ Kvifte & Gude-Husken (2005), p. 2.
  81. ^ a b Rosenqvist (2007), p. 9.
  82. ^ a b Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  83. ^ Dahlstedt (1967), p. 16.


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