Close central unrounded vowel

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IPA Number317
Audio sample

The close central unrounded vowel is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ɨ, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is 1. The IPA symbol is the letter i with a horizontal bar. Both the symbol and the sound are commonly referred to as "barred-i".

/ɨ/ is very common as a separate phoneme in the indigenous languages of the Americas and is often in phonemic contrast with other close vowels such as /i/ and /u/ both in modern living languages as well as reconstructed proto-languages (e.g. proto-Uto-Aztecan). Campbell et al. (1986) identify the presence of this vowel phoneme as an areal feature of a Mesoamerican Sprachbund (although this is not a defining feature of the entire area).

Sirionó, a Tupian language of Bolivia has phonemic contrasts between front, central, and back close and mid vowels, i.e. /i, ɨ, u, e, ə, o/. Additionally, all vowels have nasalized counterparts: /ĩ, ɨ̃, ũ, ẽ, ə̃, õ/. Apalaí, a Cariban language of Brazil also has oral and nasal high central vowels.


Occurs in

  • Huichol: [paɨ] "thus" (cf. [pai] "even"), [ʔɨki] "corncob" (cf. [ʔuki] "man")
  • Sirionó: [esɨ́] "dry wood"
  • Apalaí: epyko [epɨko] "bath", epỹko [epɨ̃ko] "bathing"
  • Yagua: [nɨ́ɨ́nu] "tree" (one analysis of Yagua has [i] as an allophone of /ɨ/.)
  • Russian: мы [mɨ] "we"
  • as an allophone of /i/ in certain dialects of Swedish: vi [vɨə] "we"


For some dialects of English that distinguish between two reduced vowels, barred-i is used to transcribe the closer of the two vowels; the more open reduced vowel is transcribed with ə (schwa). For example, in those dialects that distinguish the words "roses" and "Rosa's", the sound of the 'e' in roses is [ɨ] and the sound of the 'a' in Rosa's is [ə] . Some transcription schemes use [ɪ] (the symbol for the near-close near-front unrounded vowel as in big ([bɪg]) for this vowel, but [ɨ] is used by those who prefer to keep the set of symbols used to transcribe reduced vowels separate from the symbols used to transcribe stressable vowels—the advantage being that if the reduced vowels are considered as distinct phonemes from the unreduced vowels, many words do not need to have stress placement explicitly marked in the lexicon. The actual phonetic quality of the reduced vowels can vary widely throughout the vowel space defined by [ɨ] and [ɪ], so neither symbol can be regarded as "more correct" on any basis other than tradition.

The symbol ɨ is also occasionally used to transcribe the unstressed vowel of English belly, when that vowel is analysed as a phoneme on its own (sometimes called schwi), in order to show that it is neither long /i/ nor lax /ɪ/. Schwi is not pronounced as a close central unrounded vowel, but is a short [i] or [ɪ], depending on dialect or idiolect.


  • Campbell, Lyle; Kaufman, Terrence; & Smith-Stark, Thomas C. (1986). Meso-America as a linguistic area. Language, 62 (3), 530-570.
  • Firestone, Homer L. (1965). Description and classification of Sirionó: A Tupí-Guaraní language. Janua linguarum, Series Practica (No. 16). London: Mouton & Co.
  • Gómez, Paula. (1999). Huichol de San Andrés Cohamiata, Jalisco. Archivo de lenguas indígenas de México. México: El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios.
  • Koehn, Edward; & Koehn, Sally. (1986). Apalai. In D. C Derbyshire & G. K. Pullum (Eds.), Handbook of Amazonian linguistics (Vol. 1, pp. 33-127). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Payne, Doris L.; & Payne, Thomas E. (1990). Yagua. In D. C Derbyshire & G. K. Pullum (Eds.), Handbook of Amazonian linguistics (Vol. 2, pp. 252-474). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.