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I was taught the only difference between "ʌ" and "a:" sounds in English is that the last one being pronounced durably. Is it really true?

I've been trying to distinguish the difference between sounding the words "last" and "lust". But they both sound the same to me. I tend to consider they to be distinguished only by context. Am I correct? Or native speaker can hear the difference between them?

  • Does your native language use both of these sounds in some way? Also, are you listening to AmE or BrE? – user3169 May 14 '17 at 5:30
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Yes, there is a significant difference in their formation, not only their length.

The vowel chart (this one for the Southern Californian dialect) shows that the vowel in last is [ɑ], an open back vowel, whereas in lust the vowel [ʌ] is more central and less open. In an unstressed word, [ʌ] tends to become closer to a schwa.

In some dialects, [ʌ] is pronounced further back, but it is always less open than [ɑ].

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