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Vowels: front close rounded

by Starian

There are many sounds that do not exist in English, yet they do exist in many other languages. One of those sounds is the IPA [y] sound. It’s a vowel sound, what means that it’s a sound produced by the vibration of the larynx (with the mouth more or less open) and a continuous air stream, all voiced.

We have to remember that vowels themselves have another classification, according to three elements: the number of active resonators and the shape and size of the mouth and tongue (i.e. oral cavity).

The vowel [y] is a rounded vowel because it uses the labial resonator (uses the lips to make sound). It’s also a closed vowel because the degree of aperture of the mouth is the first — minimum. And it is a front vowel because the tongue body is in the pre-palatal region.

It is written in different ways:

Dutch German
u uu ü y

*there are some exceptions

As we see above, many languages use the umlauts above the U (Ü) to represent the [y] sound. Some others have this sound represented as U/ UU. And some have the ‘oddity’ of using Y itself to represent it.

People often find this sound for the first time in German Ü/Y or French U…

I first encountered it [y] in French, and I don’t remember having any problem with it.

ULF (UniLang Language Forum), Ozymandias

Well, among the sounds not present in Portuguese, that’s probably one of the first I learnt consciously.

ULF, Psi-Lord

I first encountered the [y] sound in Finnish, where it’s written as Y. This was a bit troublesome, because Spanish (my native language) uses the letter Y as a consonant and sometimes as a vowel that sounds just like [i].

That kind of confusion is quite common throughout the study of languages and that’s because each language has its own pronunciation rules for its alphabet. For example, Portuguese U/Ü sound is a completely different sound from that of the French U and/or German Ü. This at the beginning can cause some trouble, but practice is the key!

[…] I had to be very conscious of it during my French lessons last year, or else I’d easily slip into [u] […].

ULF, Psi-Lord

[…] Some foreigners (English, Spanish and Portuguese speakers) often pronounce [u] instead of [y], while others (Greek speakers and those Czechs that learned German before WW2) pronounce [i] instead of [y].

ULF, Saaropean

Besides all that, the sound itself isn’t difficult to pronounce. You just have to put your lips, mouth and tongue (oral and labial resonators) in a way to say the ‘OO’ [u] sound but instead say the ‘EE’ [i] sound.

That sound is very easy. Rounding unrounded vowels one already knows is very easy — at least for me.

ULF, Ekalin

These tips seem to work well too…

My teacher said to make an English ‘EE’ sound and then ‘pucker up’. That seems to work.

ULF, Ozymandias

[…] some advice to transform an [u] […] into an [y] […]. Make the tip of the tongue touch your lower teeth and make your lips very round and small. The tongue should be in (almost) the same position as for [i] (English ‘EE’).

ULF, Saaropean

We have told you about the theory, but how does it actually sound? Click hereclick to listen to this sound to listen to this sound.

Let’s see some words with that sound from other languages.

Türkçe (Turkish), ümit (hope), üç (three), üçlü (trio), üçüncu (third), ütü (iron), ütülemek (to iron), güzel (beautiful), güzellik (beauty), teçekkürler (thanks)

Hyvä (Good), tyhmä (stupid), kyllä (yes), nyt (now), tylsä (boring), kylmä (cold), tyttö (girl), yötä (night), pöytä (table), yksi (one, 1)

dyr (animal), tysk (German), mye (a lot), sytten (seventeen), unnskyld (excuse), sytti (seventy)

tu (you), salut (hello/bye), université (university), étudiant (student), nu (naked), buté (stubborn)

La future chute de la lune sera utile pour l’individu sur la rue.
(The future fall of the moon will be useful for the individual on the road.)
Version in Europeanclick to listen to this sound or Canadianclick to listen to this sound French

muren (walls), vuur (fire), avonturen (adventures), rumoer (noise), muur (brick wall), vuren (fires), duur (expensive), natuurkunde (physics), minuut (minute), uur (hour)

üt (hit), független (free), külön (separate), ül (sit), üveg (bottle), épület (building), küld (to send)

üks (one, 1), küll (enough), ülemus (boss), üleval (upside), üle (over), püha (holy), prügi (garbage), ühinema (to join), ülim (absolute)

Germanclick to listen to this sound
ü (the letter ü), Ypsilon (the letter Y), Müll (rubbish/trash), Küste (coast), fünf (five, 5), für (for), Physik (physics), übung (exercise), fühlen (to feel), Synonym (synonym), Püree (mash/puree), Hülle (hull/cover), mürrisch (spleeny/glum/grumpy), mürbe (mellow), mysteriös (mysterious), Schürze (apron)

fyra (four), vykort (post card), mycket (much), bybo (peasant), menyn (menu), kypare (waiter), tyst (quiet), dyr (expensive)

Thanks to
Saaropean for German and French recordings.

Prepared by Starian

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Originally published in Babel Babble