Simple vowel system

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Indonesian, Indonesia
G'day! :)

I just realized that among the languages I know, Spanish has the simplest vowel system, with only five vowels.

I'm referring to "pure" vowels, not including diph- or triphtongs.

The vowel length in Spanish has no grammatical differentiation either, as is the case of several east European languages. And unlike some other languages, Spanish lacks grammatical tonal distinction.

The only other language I know that comes close to Spanish is Bahasa Manado (Malay), my father's mother tongue.

Do you know other languages which have a simpler vowel system?


  • Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Arabic (along with several other world languages) has only three vowel phonemes, low ("a"), high back ("u") and high front ("i"). However, they often have allophones that sound close to "e", "o", or other sounds. Plus they have long versions that are different phonemes. If you count long vowels, Arabic has six of them.

    I hear that the system of five vowels more or less like a-e-i-o-u is the most common cross-linguistically.


    Senior Member
    UK English
    Tagalog (Philippines) has three vocalic phonemes: /i/, /a/ and /u/. Each is realized as two or three phones, e.g. /i/ > [i:], > , > [e].
    símì ['si: mI?] "left-overs"
    babáe [ba 'ba: ?e] "female, woman"
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