Lingua-U Letter No. 1: The Vowel Aɪ

vowel1-aiToday we begin to look at language through the eyes of babes, starting with one of 12 important vowels. These are not just any vowels, but the only vowels in Lingua-U. We will be looking at the first letter of the language and its sound symbolism in English.

The Letter AI

The first letter of Lingua-U is  │(Subtle Energy Character Set), or AI (upper case) or aɪ (lower case).

It is pronounced as the dipthong /aɪ/ in the chart of vowels described by the International Phonetic Association (IPA), It begins with /a/, the open front unrounded vowel. This sound is /a/, a highly uncommon sound among American English speakers. In the chart of vowels by the IPA, /a/ appears at the extreme lower left, in the open row and frontal column.

Let’s start our investigation of sound symbolism by reflecting on two of the attributes of /aɪ/: frontness, and openness/closedness.

Frontness (X-axis)

The frontal nature of /aɪ/ means that to make the sound the tongue must be positioned far forward in the mouth, but not so far as to make a consonant sound.

Scholars looking at open vowels have observed a poetic contrast between frontal and back vowels, observing that the former make “bright” sounds whereas the latter make “dark” sounds. AI is a very bright sound.

Another way to look at the symbolism of frontal sounds — a view with which I agree — is that they connote events which occur chronologically before the back vowels. The analogy here is that when the IPA chart is seen as a graph, the X-axis represents time and the Y-axis represents space. Thus, frontal vowels are “early” whereas back vowels are “late.”

To illustrate an example of this, you can look at the order of the English alphabet and note that “a” is the first letter and it so happens that the shape of the letter “a” and the sound /a/ are the same. The vowel U is the last vowel in the order of the alphabet and it is the back-most vowel. Thus, at first blush ascribing the quality of “earliness” seems plausible.

Openness (Y-axis)

As an open vowel, the tongue is placed in an extreme position: as distant as possible from the mouth’s roof. The tongue rests firmly against the mouth’s floor.

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