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I believe that I can pronounce the words 'call' and 'balloon'

"a" in call sounds like "o". To me, there is no difference between "a" in balloon and "u" in lunch. How can we distinguish between them?

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Actually, the "a" in "balloon" is more like the last vowel in "mother" (just before "r"). The English language does not have a dedicated letter to represent this sound.

The "a" in "lunch" is just a clear "a", like in "u" in "rush", or "u" in "jump", "u" in "cup"...

(I provided links to the definitions of the words with graphical representation of the pronunciation and audio sample.)


Question to self: is "a" ever pronounced as "a" in English? :)

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    What does a “clear "a" ” mean? The letter "a" depending on its position can be pronounced in more than one way.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 20 '19 at 8:57
  • Good question :) I will update the answer. I am also familiar with languages where "a" is always associated with only one specific sound.
    – virolino
    Sep 20 '19 at 8:59
  • You'd be better off reproducing and linking a dictionary's listed pronunciation. Merriam-Webster or Lexico are fine online dictionaries. Not my downvote!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 20 '19 at 9:05
  • Virolino - "The "a" in "lunch" is just a clear "a", like in "u" in "rush", or "u" in "jump", "u" in "cup"..." What? There is no 'a' in 'lunch', at least none that I can see. Sep 20 '19 at 10:56
  • When I said "a" I was obviously referring to he sound And sounds are to be heard, not seen. I understand that it looks confusing - it is actually confusing. Letters change their pronunciation too much and too often in English. E.g., the letter "c" in "Pacific" is read each time differently. The standardized notation for sounds (presented in online dictionaries, or on Wikipedia) is hurting more than helping - referring here to average Joe's, not linguistic experts.
    – virolino
    Sep 20 '19 at 11:01
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No one has mentioned the real difference between the vowel of lunch and that of balloon so far.

In most--if not all--accents of English, the first syllable of balloon is unstressed while lunch is stressed. The vowel in the first syllable of balloon is /ə/ (schwa) while that in lunch /ʌ/ (it varies from accent to accent, though).

/ə/ almost always occurs in unstressed syllables, while /ʌ/ can chiefly be found in stressed syllables. That's the main difference between /ʌ/ and /ə/.

The acoustic difference between [ʌ] and [ə] is that [ʌ] is a bit lower (meaning the tongue is in a bit lower position) and backer (meaning the tongue is positioned back in the mouth), but this distinction is almost imperceptible.

Vowel chart

As you can see in the vowel chart above, [ʌ] is a bit lower and backer while [ə] is central.

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  • Another thing worth pointing out is this really depends on the accent of the speaker - for example people from London might pronounce it as something like "land'n", whereas people from other parts of the UK might say "lund'n". The word is pronounced /ˈlʌndən/ and it's that ʌ sound that can vary from accent to accent, whereas the u sound in foot (/fʊt/) is a separate vowel sound that usually sounds like u (in the UK at least, maybe more of an a for, say, Australian accents) Jan 1 at 19:14
  • @cactustictacs: That's a good point! I should've used [brackets] rather than /slashes/... i'll edit it
    – Void
    Jan 1 at 19:21
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    Oh I was sort of piggybacking on your answer to talk about how the pronunciation of ʌ can change - there were a lot of comments about how "lunch is always pronounced with a u" and it really depends! The schwa stuff is important so I'm glad you addressed it Jan 1 at 19:29
  • English /ʌ/ does not have the quality of IPA [ʌ]. It is not a back vowel. Feb 15 at 0:19
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    Yes, it's pretty much exactly [ɐ] (depending on the speaker etc). So, yes, central. The difference between that and schwa is one of height. (and it's not a big difference!) Not many languages have three different central vowels so close together. Feb 15 at 3:00

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