In phonology, fronting is a sound change in which a vowel or consonant becomes fronted, advanced or pronounced farther to the front of the vocal tract than some reference point. The opposite situation, in which a sound becomes pronounced farther to the back of the vocal tract, is called backing or retraction. Fronting may be triggered by a nearby sound, in which case it is a form of assimilation, or may occur on its own.



In i-mutation and Germanic umlaut, a back vowel is fronted under the influence of /i/ or /j/ in a following syllable.[1] This is assimilation.

Vowel shifts

In the Attic and Ionic dialects of Ancient Greek, Proto-Greek close back /u uː/ were fronted to /y yː/. This change occurred in all cases and was not triggered by a nearby front consonant or vowel.

In Old English and Old Frisian, the back vowels /ɑ ɑː/ were fronted to /æ æː/ in certain cases. For more information, see First a-fronting and Second a-fronting.

In many dialects of English, the vowel /uː/ is fronted to [u̟ː] or [ʉː], a sound change that is sometimes called goose-fronting.[2] The same sound change occurred in many dialects of Norwegian and Standard Swedish but not in Danish.

Fronting can also take place as part of a chain shift. For example, in the Northern Cities Shift, the raising of /æ/ left room in the low-front area of the vowel space for [ɑ] to expand. Thus, words like cot and father are often pronounced with a low-front vowel [æ].


  1. ^ Campbell, Lyle (2013). Historical Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 20. ISBN 978 0 7486 4594 7.
  2. ^ Wong, Amy Wing-mei (October 1, 2014). "GOOSE-fronting among Chinese Americans in New York City". University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics. 20 (2).

See also

  • Palatalization refers to a range of sound changes triggered by high or high-front vowels.