Mark's Vowel Sound Chart

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Mark's Vowel Sound Chart -

Check out the full chart here. See a video here. I’ve been developing a new phonemic chart to use with my students. The part of it showing vowel sounds is hexagonal and tries to show the sounds as a system, with vowel length in concentric rings, and place of articulation in radiating spokes: The outer ring of hexagon cells contain the long vowels and diphthongs; The inner ring of hexagon cells contain the short vowels; The central hexagon cell contains the weak vowel sound known as schwa. An interactive version of this chart has been created by Mura Nava.


1. Each long vowel occupies a corner of the chart.

2. In this system, the vowel sound in hair is treated as part of the system of long vowels, although its phonemic symbol shows it to be a diphthong.

3. The remaining cells of the outer ring are occupied by the diphthongs. These are vowel sounds where the mouth starts in one position and then changes to another. They are positioned on the chart according to the starting position, which is in the same place as one of the neighbouring vowel sounds.

4. Each short vowel sound on the inner ring of hexagons corresponds to the long vowel sound on the adjacent cell in the outer ring.

5. The central cell, containing the weak sound known as schwa, occupies the unique central position on the chart. Schwa is different from the other vowel sounds because it can only occupy an unstressed syllable.

6. The other vowels on the chart are distinguished from each other either in length or mouth position. Schwa is distinguished from all the others by being weak.

7. Some of the symbols include (r) . This represents the fact that these sounds are usually spelt with an R. This may or may not be pronounced, depending on the accent.

Let me know what you think of it!


Nice, Mark. I'd probably pull it apart a bit to represent some of the conceptual/articulatory "distance" and flip it mirror-image! (And North American or Aussie it later.) Honey of a concept, however!
Mark Hancock's picture

Thanks Bill! Would pulling it apart upset the simplicity of the hive? Why flip? Mouth front is currently left - would you prefer it right? Yes, needs American version. But maybe this one would be ok for Aussie, given the symbols represent phonemes rather than precise vowel qualities?

Hi Mark. I like it, despite being wed to Underhill"s chart. Positioning the diphthong sounds with related vowel sounds makes a lot of sense. Are you going to work on consonant sounds and produce an actual, full size chart?
Mark Hancock's picture

Yes, Phil, consonants coming soon. I like Underhill's chart too, but find it doesn't systematize the long and short pairs, and makes schwa appear to be 'just another vowel sound' like the rest, whereas it's different in kind.

Well done. And I like that there is a bit of a body parts theme, but the more radial positioning is a step forward from the Gimson '62/Adrian Underhill chart. Bravo to Mura Nava putting up the code. Also it was great to see flexibility and inclusion on the accent samples: male/female, rhotic/non-rhotic etc... Bring on the consonants!

Well done. This is an ELT area that has been begging for more thoughtful design and a return to its roots. I like that there is a (mostly) body parts theme and that you have included male/female and rhotic/non-rhotic accents without getting over-protective of learner sensibilities in the interactive version. The layout is super. Keeping the central vowel central. Very useful. Also it was great to see collaboration between colleagues (Bravo Mura Nava) and a little openness in displaying the source code etc. Bring on the consonants!

The speaker pronounces the /b/ in thumb. This should be corrected.
Mark Hancock's picture

Thanks, John - coming soon!
Mark Hancock's picture

Thanks Petr - I'll check it out!
Mark Hancock's picture

Ok, looks like Mura Nava has corrected that problem, Petr.


Hi Mark, I like it too though it seems a shame that on the interactive one the schwa has the (r) added. I understand the spelling issue but as it is usually silent (unless you come from Dorset, Somerset or Cornwall...) most language learners over pronounce it. I think I would rather have it silent.
Mark Hancock's picture

Hi Laura. It's not only about spelling. A large proportion of world accents pronounce this post-vocalic r, and it doesn't seem to damage intelligibility. If students find it hard and anti-intuitive to not pronounce it, I certainly wouldn't insist. So I would like the chart to be 'r-ambivalent'. (Incidentally, Jenkins in her work on ELF has suggested that in international communication, you're probably more intelligible if you pronounce it than if you don't)

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