Symbols for American English Vowel Sounds

A typical dialect of American English has about 15 distinctive vowel sounds. Here their symbols are linked to Sun-style .au samples lifted from the ibiblio (Sunsite) archive (where they are listed without the .au extension).
Front Vowels
IPA S u n IPAascii Rsynth Sampa KeyWord
h
i
g
h
l
o
w
IY i i i beet
IH IH I I I bit
EY EY eI eI e bait
EH EH E e E bet
AE & & { at
Back Vowels
IPA S u n IPAascii Rsynth Sampa KeyWord
h
i
g
h
.
l
o
w
UY u u u boot
UH U U U book
OW oU oU o boat
AO O O O cause
AA a/A A A cot 1
Central Vowels
IPA S u n IPAascii Rsynth Sampa KeyWord
AX @ @ @ about
AH V V V but2
Diphthongs
IPA S u n IPAascii Rsynth Sampa KeyWord
AY aI aI aI bite
OY OI OI OI boy
AW AU aU aU bough

Notes

Some would list "ju" (use not same as ooze

"R-colored" or rhoticized vowels (such as those in beard, heard, hard are hard to discriminate and are absent in "r-drop" or non-rhotic dialects such as those typical of the North American South and New England region, and Received Pronunciation in GB. In these latter dialects, the preceding vowel is usually lengthened and often glides toward the central schwa sound. IPA hangs a little "r-hook"diacritic off of the symbol for an r-colored vowel.

PhonAtlas logo A much higher level of magnification can be had from the Phonological Atlas of North America. Especially germane is the text and illustrations of William Labov's recent paper on acoustic analysis of data on variation, especially key Northern cities and Southern (US) vowel shifts. For the whole enchilada, see the National Map




Footnotes

1Though it occurs in some New England dialects (path, tomato), back low unrounded ("Cardinal 5") sound (script a) is absent from most North American dialects, where the low, back, unrounded "a" is pronounced to various considerable degrees more forward in the mouth. Moreover, in Canadian and much of US speech, the vowels of cause and cot have merged. (See Atlas of North American English)
2These central vowels are very close; often the inverted V is used to distinguish a stressed central vowel from an unstressed one (for which inverted e --schwa--is used).

After Notes

Check out my page of vowel spectrograms and the JavOICe sonifier.

JavaScript special: If you have or can enable Javascript on your browser, try opening a secondary window with British/American Vowels.

It may help to compare the triple reading around the Cardinal Vowel Quadrilateral by John Wells, Susan Ramsaran, and Peter Ladefoged to those given here. Bear well in mind, however, that the Cardinal framework is for placing the vowels of all languages, not just English, and the matchup is approximate and incomplete.