A, The first letter of the European alphabets, has, in the English language, three different sounds, which may be termed the broad, open, and slender.
The broad sound, resembling that of the German a, is found in many of our monosyllables, as all, wall, malt, salt, in which a is pronounced as au in cause, or aw in law. Many of these words were anciently written with au, as sault, waulk; which happens to be still retained in fault. This was probably the ancient found of the Saxons, since it is almost uniformly preferred in the rustic pronunciation, and the Northern dialects, as maun for man, haund for hand.
A open, not unlike the a of the Italians, is found in father, rather, and more obscurely in fancy, fast, &c.
A slender or close, is the peculiar a of the English language, resembling the sound of the French e masculine, or diphthong ai in pȧis, or perhaps a middle sound between them, or between the a and e; to this the Arabic a is said nearly to approach. Of this sound we have examples in the words, place, face, waste, and all those that terminate in ation; as relation, nation, generation.
A is short, as, glass, grass; or long, as, glaze, graze: it is marked long, generally, by an e final, plane, or by an i added, as plain. The short a is open, the long a close.1.
And now a breeze from shore began to blow,
The tailors ship their oars, and cease to row;
Then hoist their yards a-trip, and all their sails
Let fall, to court the wind, and catch the gales.Dryden's Ceyx and Alcyone.