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The English vowel system

The RP variety of British English, with twenty vowel phonemes (standard American English has fifteen), has a relatively large vowel system, which is characteristic of Germanic languages (Swedish has even more vowels). There are seven short vowels, five long vowels and eight diphthongs. The vowels and their corresponding phonemic symbols are shown in the table below:


The articulation of the vowels is represented in the vowel chart below. The shape of the chart is modelled on the shape of the phonetic space ie the shape of the oral cavity produced by various positions of the tongue. For English, the phonetic space is represented as a trapezoid but some languages would be represented by a triangle.