After such a long time without posting anything related to languages on UniLang, it feels curious to be back.
Anyway, straight to the point…
I remember having always read (even before and after I studied some basics, ages ago) that Malay might be said to have six vowels, with ⟨e⟩ doing double duty as ⟨e⟩ [ə] and ⟨é⟩ [e]. However, I’ve recently read more than a few materials that mention that in Indonesian (but not in Malaysian) it also stands for ⟨è⟩ [ɛ].
The problem is – not even the materials that do mention that seem to agree on the exact nature of such a system. Some seem to treat both ⟨é⟩ and ⟨è⟩ as allophones, or at least as depending on the speaker and/or their background; some seem to link the difference in quality to the syllable structure, such as ⟨é⟩ appearing in open syllables and ⟨è⟩ in (final) closed syllables; and others strongly imply that the vowels exist independently, just like ‘schwa ⟨e⟩’, and that you just have to know which word takes which just the same (not too different from, say, Italian or Portuguese).
George Quinn’s The Learner’s Dictionary of Today’s Indonesian, for instance, does distinguish between these three ⟨e⟩’s on a word-by-word basis; adapting his own transcription system to IPA, the words he uses as examples in his pronunciation guide to show such a distinction are ⟨senang⟩ [səˈnaŋ] ‘happy’, ⟨méja⟩ [ˈmedʒa] ‘table’, and ⟨mèrah⟩ [ˈmɛrah] ‘red’.
Any opinions on how the situation presents itself and how one may tackle it as a learner?