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I've noticed that northen French accent, especially in paris, have 'only three' nasal vowels, which are /æ̃/,/ã/(very much rounded than I thought), and /ɔ̃/. Is this quite correct or am I misunderstood in some part?

And I also have a trouble with this because my french teacher told me to pronounce 'un'(indefinite article) as /æ̃/, not /ɛ̃/(probably /œ/ which is historical).

Then the pronunciation in 'i. ain, aim, ein, eim, en, em, in, im, un, um, ym, yn' would all be /æ̃/...

but when I listen carefully to the teaching materials, they pronounce 'un' like /ã/, which is easier to pronounce(probably /œ/). Then can I safely assume that the speaker in the audio isn't from northern France? Many accents in French are beautiful and I'm only just curious about this /æ̃/ shift.

  • But en is pronounced with /ɑ̃/, like an, not /æ̃/, like ein. See trente, tante, teinte. I guess the spelling makes this really confusing—there are only four nasal vowels, and I'm baffled as to why their pronunciation has changed so much historically. – Peter Shor Jan 26 at 3:01
  • @PeterShor: <en> is pronounced /ɛ̃/ in bien, canadien, Vivien, etc., as well as in agenda. – ruakh Jan 26 at 17:41
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The four typical nasal vowels are /œ̃, ɔ̃, ɛ̃, ã/ as in un bon vin blanc.

In what is called Parisian French, /œ̃/ has been absorbed into /ɛ̃/, leaving only three distinct nasals. Hence, brun sounds like brin and so on. And yup, it affects un, which is otherwise /œ̃/, not /ã/.

You don't need to emulate this pronunciation. You can if you want, but it probably won't please your teacher. And it may not even please Parisians, because when you make a distinction between sounds, people who don't make that distinction usually don't hear it anyway.

And it goes without saying that Parisian is only one of many interesting dialects of the language. Others have other variations of the classic four nasal vowels.


Added based on comments: in some accents, including Parisian, /ɛ̃/ is realized [æ᷈] (tongue a little bit lower / mouth more open). Thus /œ̃/ and /ɛ̃/ are both realized [æ᷈].

  • Then, should I ignore the /æ̃/ sound completely? If /œ̃/ has been absorbed into /ɛ̃/ in Parisian French and if I should emulate it, would it displease my teacher, as I understand? – Victoria Jan 26 at 5:14
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    The general advice is to follow teacher's advice, whatever it is. Otherwise, you are of course free to emulate the full set of nasal vowels or not. Many Parisians won't even notice there can be a difference between in and un as they just don't hear it. – jlliagre Jan 26 at 11:17
  • @Victoria Edited to make it clearer. It's good to be aware of and fun to try, but there's no need to hold yourself to just three nasal vowels. Also, it's definitely /œ̃/, not /æ᷈/. – Luke Sawczak Jan 26 at 13:48
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    In France, the /ɛ̃/ sound is very often pronounced /æ̃/. And in dialects where it has absorbed /œ̃/, they can both be pronounced /æ̃/. Your teacher has confused you by calling the sound /æ̃/ (the way it is commonly pronounced) rather than /ɛ̃/ (the way it is usually represented in IPA);. – Peter Shor Jan 26 at 14:56
  • I think that some time after the pronunciation symbols were first assigned, there must have been a pronunciation change that took /ɛ̃/ → /æ᷈/, /œ̃/ → /æ᷈/, and /ã/ → /ɑ̃/ in the Parisian dialect (and probably lots of other dialects, too). – Peter Shor Jan 26 at 15:07

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