So, both those vowels are very similar, the only difference being that [a] is made when the mouth is fully open while [ɐ] is near-open.

Both those sounds exist in my language (Brazilian Portuguese), so I'm a little confused because while normally I would hear [a], I feel like sometimes I also hear [ɐ].

I believe it happens only with some specific people that may speak with their mouths less open than the average, but I might be wrong.

Does anyone have any input on this? Or maybe studies or papers that explore this matter? I've found some stuff about the Korean language, but not for Japanese.

  • 1
    I agree that the vowel in, say, かった sometimes sounds like the vowel in the English word cut, which I suppose is closer to /ɐ/ than /a/. It depends on the speaker, although I cannot draw any demographic conclusions from my limited data points.
    – L. F.
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 3:50
  • I kind of know what you mean. Like the name Ando. Sometimes people will say the AN like UN in "UNderwear", but occasionally you hear more like AN in "ANd"
    – Uso Dayo
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 15:16
  • 1
    I'm sure not everyone is familiar with the IPA, so you might want to put some example words with those sounds.
    – istrasci
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 15:25
  • 3
    They are free allophones. You just need to learn to ignore the difference when hearing Japanese.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 15:58
  • I came across this book mentioning the mouse gets narrower and sounds like [ɐ] is used when speaking roughly.
    – sundowner
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 1:17

1 Answer 1


I am not personally aware of a study specifically on these vowels, but I think you have encountered a situation similar to this and this. [a] and [ɐ] are allophones of the same phoneme in Japanese. This means that even if you hear two different a's, ordinary Japanese speakers are completely unaware of it and can't even tell the difference. Japanese has only five basic vowels (あ, い, う, え, and お), and Japanese people recognize vowels as only one of those five. Although some Japanese vowels may sound to you slightly different from person to person or from word to word, you should not worry about it.

(This also happens in the opposite direction. "Get away" in English sounds to Japanese ears sometimes like ゲタウェイ, sometimes like ゲダウェイ, and sometimes even like ゲラウェイ. It was confusing to me at first.)

  • 1
    Thanks. I imagined they were allophones, but found it strange that I couldn't find any studies on that (unlike the nasalized が行 and the za/da exemples you provided). Granted, those exemples actually have practical rules on when it's a sound over the other. Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 12:21

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