French Corrective Phonetics Guide

Mid-vowels (/e/, /ɛ/, /ø/, /œ/, /o/, /ɔ/)

Mid-vowels

Mid-vowels are articulated with the tongue in the middle of the mouth (in terms of height). We distinguish two mid positions: mid-closed (higher tongue) and mid-open (lower tongue). Three pairs of French mid-vowels exist:

 

French Mid-vowels
Front Back
  unrounded rounded rounded
mid-closed /e/ /ø/ /o/
mid-open /ɛ/ /œ/ /ɔ/

 

Members of each pair are similar to one another; the mid-open vowel can be articulated by starting with the mid-closed one and lowering the tongue slightly.

The Loi de position

The alternation between each mid-open and mid-closed pair is fairly predictable. In general, the mid-open variant is found in closed syllables (i.e.: syllables that end in a consonant), while the mid-closed one is usually found in open syllables (i.e.: those that end in a vowel). This tendency, which is stronger at the ends of words than elsewhere, is referred to as the Loi de position. However, it would be better labeled the Tendance de position since there are exceptions.

 

The "Loi" de position
Mid-closed vowel Mid-open vowels Open Syllable Closed Syllable
/e/   aller [ale]  
  /ɛ/   belle [bɛl]
/ø/   feu [fø]  
  /œ/   seul [sœl]
/o/   beau [bo]  
  /ɔ/   botte [bɔt]

 

As you can see in the righthand-most column, there is often a consonant after the mid-open variant (i.e.: the distribution usually follows the Loi de position).

 
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