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The mechanism of electroluminescence in hydrogenated amorphous silicon oxynitride was investigated. The luminescence can be observed only in the samples with high nitrogen content and annealed at high temperatures. It depends on the direction of the applied electric field, and its peak photon energy decreases from 2.3 to 1.8 eV as the nitrogen content increases. From the measurements of conduction current and Fourier transform infrared absorption spectroscopy, it was found that the electrical conduction in the electric field region where the luminescence was observed is governed by the Poole–Frenkel process at the defect centers induced by the high temperature annealing. The electroluminescence is considered to be caused by electronic transition between the band-tail states, at least one of which is related to N or Si–N bonds. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.