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When a speaker assumes only a single configuration of the mouth when producing a vowel, i.e. there is no movement of the tongue, lips or jaws, the speaker produces what is known as a simple vowel. In sum, once the appropriate position for the tongue, jaws and lips has been set, this configuration does not alter whilst the sound is being produced. Owing to this single configuration, simple vowels are often referred to as monophthongs. They are also sometimes known as pure vowels. However, we will use the term ‘simple vowel’ to describe this subset of vowels.

In the immediately following sections we will describe the 12 simple vowels found in General American (GA) and Standard Southern British English (SSBE) in relation to each position of tongue elevation:

  1. front
  2. central
  3. back

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