Near-close Near-back Rounded Vowel
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Near-close Near-back Rounded Vowel
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 ⟨?⟩. It is informally called "horseshoe u". Prior to 1989, there was an alternative IPA symbol for this sound, ⟨?⟩, 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 [?] as a mid-centralized (lowered and centralized) close back rounded vowel (transcribed [u?] or [ü?]), and the current official IPA name of the vowel transcribed with the symbol ⟨?⟩ 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 [?], though it still fits the definition of a mid-centralized . 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 ⟨⟩ (a lowered ⟨?⟩) in narrow transcription. For the close-mid (near-)back rounded vowel that is not usually transcribed with the symbol ⟨?⟩ (or ⟨u⟩), see close-mid back rounded vowel.

In some other languages (such as Bengali and Luxembourgish)[7][8] as well as some dialects of English (such as Scottish)[9][10] there is a fully back near-close rounded vowel (a sound between cardinal and ), which can be transcribed in IPA with ⟨⟩, ⟨u?⟩ or ⟨o?⟩. There may be phonological reasons not to use the first symbol, as it may incorrectly imply a relation to the fully close . It also implies too weak a rounding in some cases (specifically in the case of the vowels that are described as tense in Germanic languages), which would have to be specified as ⟨⟩ anyway.

A few languages also have the near-close back unrounded vowel in their inventory. This does not have a separate IPA letter, but may be specified as ⟨⟩. In Russian use of the IPA, the letter ⟨?⟩ may fill in this spot.[11]

Near-close back protruded vowel

The near-close back protruded vowel is typically transcribed in IPA simply as ⟨?⟩, 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 ⟨⟩ for the near-close back protruded vowel. Another possible transcription is ⟨⟩ or ⟨⟩ (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 ⟨⟩ or ⟨⟩, whereas the fully back near-close protruded vowel can be transcribed ⟨u⟩, ⟨⟩ or ⟨u⟩.


  • 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 back in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.
  • Its roundedness is protruded, which means that the corners of the lips are drawn together, and the inner surfaces exposed. The prototypical [?] has a weak protruded rounding, more like than the neighboring cardinal vowels.


Because back rounded vowels are assumed to have protrusion, and few descriptions cover the distinction, some of the following may actually have compression. Vowels transcribed with ⟨o?⟩ may have a stronger rounding than the prototypical value of ⟨?⟩.

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Afrikaans Standard[12] Botha ['bta] 'Botha' Close-mid. Allophone of // 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 [ ~ ~ ].[12] See Afrikaans phonology
Arabic Hejazi ‎/gult [g?lt] 'I said' Allophone of /u/ in medial and initial positions. See Hejazi phonology
Assamese[13] /kûr [k] 'hoe' Close-mid;[13] also described as open .[14]
Bengali[7] ?/tum? ['t?umi:] 'you' Fully back;[7] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩. See Bengali phonology
Burmese[15] ?/m? [m] 'smooth' Allophone of /u/ in syllables closed by a glottal stop and when nasalized.[15]
Chinese Mandarin[16] ? / hóng 'red' Fully back; height varies between mid and close depending on the speaker. See Standard Chinese phonology
Shanghainese[17] ?/kù [k?¹] 'melon' The height varies between close and close-mid; contrasts with a close to close-mid back compressed vowel.[17]
Danish Standard[18] mave ['m?:?] 'stomach' Phonetic realization of the sequence /v?/.[18] See Danish phonology
Dutch Standard Northern[19] oren ['?:r?(n)] 'ears' Allophone of /o:/ before /r/. Can be a centering diphthong [] instead, especially before coda /r/. See Dutch phonology
Some speakers[20] hok [k] 'den' Contrasts with in certain words, but many speakers have only one vowel .[20] See Dutch phonology
English Australian[21][22] hook [h?k] 'hook' Also described as close back .[23] See Australian English phonology
Welsh[25][26] In Cardiff, it is advanced and lowered to , often also with unrounding to .[27]
Cockney[28] [k] Sometimes fronted to .[28]
Conservative Received Pronunciation[22] [hk] Often lowered and advanced to , or unrounded to . See English phonology
Multicultural London[29] May be front instead.[29]
New Zealand[30] The height varies between near-close and close-mid; it is unrounded and advanced to [ ~ ?] in some lexical items.[31] See New Zealand English phonology
Some Estuary speakers[33] Often advanced to [ ~ ?], or advanced and lowered to [? ~ ].[33]
General American[4] [hk] Close-mid.[4][5][34]
Southern Michigan[34]
Northern England cut [k?t] 'cut' Phonetic realization of /?/ in dialects without the foot-strut split.[35]
Local Dublin[36]
Scottish[9][10] go [?o?:] 'go' Fully back.[9][10]
French Quebec[37] foule [f?l] 'crowd' Allophone of /u/ in closed syllables.[37] See Quebec French phonology
German Standard[38][39] Stunde 'hour' The quality has been variously described as near-close back [][38] and close-mid near-back [].[40] For some speakers, it may be as high as .[41] See Standard German phonology
Hindustani[42] /?‎/gulaab [g?'lä:b] 'rose' See Hindustani phonology
Hungarian[43] ujj [?j:] 'finger' Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩. See Hungarian phonology
Irish Munster[44] dubh [dv?] 'black' Allophone of /?/ between broad consonants.[44] See Irish phonology
Italian Central-Southern accents[45] ombra ['o?mbrä] 'shade' Fully back; local realization of /o/.[45] See Italian phonology
Kurdish[46][47] Kurmanji (Northern) gul [g?l] 'flower' See Kurdish phonology
Sorani (Central) /gul
Palewani (Southern)
Latin Classical puella [plla] 'girl'
Limburgish Some dialects[6][48] póp [pp] 'doll' Close-mid in the Maastrichtian dialect.[6] The example word is from that dialect.
Luxembourgish[8] Sprooch [?p?o?:?] 'language' Fully back.[8] Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨o:⟩. See Luxembourgish phonology
Malay mampus [mam.p?s] 'die' Allophone of /u/ in closed-final syllables. May be [o] or [o?] depending on the speaker. See Malay phonology
Pashayi Lower Darai Nur dialect[49] /sar [sr] 'sun' Close-mid.[49]
Portuguese Brazilian[50] pulo ['pul?] 'leap' Reduction and neutralization of unstressed /u, o, ?/; can be voiceless. See Portuguese phonology
Russian[51] ??/sukhoy/suhkoj 'dry' Unstressed allophone of /u/.[51] See Russian phonology
Saterland Frisian[52] Roop [?o?:p] 'rope' Phonetic realization of /o:/ and /?/. Near-close back [o?:] in the former case, close-mid near-back [] in the latter. Phonetically, the latter is nearly identical to /?:/ .[52]
Scots Glenoe dialect[53] go [?o?:] 'go' Fully back.[53]
Rathlin dialect[53]
Sinhalese[54] /hu?gak [ak] 'much' Only weakly rounded;[55] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨u⟩.
Slovak[56][57] ruka ['ru?kä] 'arm' Typically fully back.[56] See Slovak phonology
Sotho[58] potso [p't?s'?] 'query' Fully back; contrasts close, near-close and close-mid back rounded vowels.[58] See Sotho phonology
Spanish Eastern Andalusian[59] tus [t:] 'your' (pl.) Fully back. Corresponds to in other dialects, but in these dialects they are distinct. See Spanish phonology
Turkish[60] buzlu [buz?'l] 'icy' Allophone of /u/ described variously as "word-final"[60] and "occurring in final open syllable of a phrase".[61] See Turkish phonology
Ukrainian[62] ??/musiy/musij [m?'sij] 'Musiy' (name) See Ukrainian phonology
Welsh g?raidd [.raið] 'manly' See Welsh phonology
Yoruba[63] lati sun [lati s] 'to sleep' Near-back or back; typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨?⟩. It is nasalized, and may be close [ ~ ?] instead.[63]

Near-close back compressed vowel

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 ⟨⟩ as ⟨⟩ (simultaneous [] and labial compression) or ⟨⟩ ([] modified with labial compression). The spread-lip diacritic ⟨  ? ⟩ may also be used with a rounded vowel letter ⟨⟩ 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.[17]

The fully back variant of the near-close compressed vowel can be transcribed ⟨⟩, ⟨⟩ or ⟨u⟩.


  • 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 back in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.
  • 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. The prototypical [?] has a weak rounding (though it is protruded, rather than compressed), more like than the neighboring cardinal vowels.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Chinese Shanghainese[17] ? [t¹] 'capital' The height varies between close and close-mid; contrasts with a close to close-mid back protruded vowel.[17]
Norwegian[64][65] ond [n:] 'evil' Backness varies among dialects; it is a back vowel [] in Urban East Norwegian, whereas in Stavangersk it is near-back [].[64] The UEN vowel has also been described as close back .[66] See Norwegian phonology
Swedish Central Standard[67][68] ort 'locality' The quality has been variously described as near-close near-back [],[67] near-close back [][68] and close back .[69] 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 Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 70.
  9. ^ a b c Scobbie, Gordeeva & Matthews (2006), p. 7.
  10. ^ a b c Lindsey (2012b).
  11. ^ E.g. Bondarko, Verbickaja & Gordina (1991) Osnovy obej fonetiki. St. Petersburg University Press.
  12. ^ a b Lass (1987), p. 119.
  13. ^ a b Mahanta (2012), p. 220.
  14. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), pp. 293-294.
  15. ^ a b Watkins (2001), p. 293.
  16. ^ Lee & Zee (2003), p. 111.
  17. ^ a b c d e Chen & Gussenhoven (2015), pp. 328-329.
  18. ^ a b Basbøll (2005), p. 58.
  19. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 134, 200-201.
  20. ^ a b van Oostendorp (2013), section 29.
  21. ^ Mannell, Cox & Harrington (2009).
  22. ^ a b Lindsey (2012a).
  23. ^ Cox & Palethorpe (2007), p. 344.
  24. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 421-422.
  25. ^ Connolly (1990), p. 125.
  26. ^ Tench (1990), p. 135.
  27. ^ Collins & Mees (1990), pp. 92-93.
  28. ^ a b Mott (2011), p. 75.
  29. ^ a b Gimson (2014), p. 91.
  30. ^ Bauer et al. (2007), p. 98.
  31. ^ Bauer et al. (2007), pp. 98, 100-101.
  32. ^ Lodge (2009), p. 168.
  33. ^ a b Altendorf & Watt (2004), p. 188.
  34. ^ a b Hillenbrand (2003), p. 122.
  35. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 132, 196-199, 351-353.
  36. ^ "Glossary". Retrieved .
  37. ^ a b Walker (1984), pp. 51-60.
  38. ^ a b Kohler (1999), p. 87.
  39. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), pp. 34, 64.
  40. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 34.
  41. ^ Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 64.
  42. ^ Ohala (1999), p. 102.
  43. ^ Szende (1994), p. 92.
  44. ^ a b Ó Sé (2000), p. ?.
  45. ^ a b Bertinetto & Loporcaro (2005), p. 137.
  46. ^ Thackston (2006a), p. 1.
  47. ^ Khan & Lescot (1970), pp. 8-16.
  48. ^ Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998), p. 110.
  49. ^ a b Lamuwal & Baker (2013), p. 245.
  50. ^ Barbosa & Albano (2004), p. 229.
  51. ^ a b Jones & Ward (1969), p. 69.
  52. ^ a b Peters (2017), p. ?.
  53. ^ a b c Gregg (1953).
  54. ^ Perera & Jones (1919), pp. 5, 10.
  55. ^ Perera & Jones (1919), p. 10.
  56. ^ a b Pavlík (2004), pp. 93, 95.
  57. ^ Hanulíková & Hamann (2010), p. 375.
  58. ^ a b Doke & Mofokeng (1974), p. ?.
  59. ^ a b Zamora Vicente (1967), p. ?.
  60. ^ a b Göksel & Kerslake (2005), p. 10.
  61. ^ Zimmer & Organ (1999), p. 155.
  62. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995), p. 4.
  63. ^ a b Bamgbo?e (1969), p. 166.
  64. ^ a b Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 18.
  65. ^ 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.
  66. ^ Kvifte & Gude-Husken (2005), p. 2.
  67. ^ a b Rosenqvist (2007), p. 9.
  68. ^ a b Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  69. ^ Dahlstedt (1967), p. 16.


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