Department of Linguistics
PHONETICS AND PHONOLOGY
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Approximate tongue positions for four vowels
The tongue position for the "neutral vowel" [ɜ] is indicated on the above diagram by the black line. This tongue position creates an approximately constant cross-sectional vocal tract area from the glottis to the lips. This results in a vowel spectrum which has uniformly spaced spectral peaks. Changing the shape of the vocal tract by raising, lowering, fronting or retracting the tongue results in vowel spectra of different patterns and this in turn is responsible for the different perceived quality of the various vowels. Shown in this diagram, contrasted with [ɜ], is a low vowel [ɐ] (blue), a high front vowel [i] (red) and a high back vowel [u] (green).
Also read the topic on vowel lip posture.