Mid central vowel

Mid central vowel
ə
IPA Number322
Encoding
Entity (decimal)ə
Unicode (hex)U+0259
X-SAMPA@
Braille⠢ (braille pattern dots-26)
Audio sample

The mid central vowel (also known as schwa) is a type of vowel sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ə⟩, a rotated lowercase letter e.

While the Handbook of the International Phonetic Association does not define the roundedness of [ə],[1] it is more often unrounded than rounded. The phonetician Jane Setter describes the pronunciation of the unrounded variant as follows: "[ə] is a sound which can be produced by basically relaxing the articulators in the oral cavity and vocalising."[2] To produce the rounded variant, all that needs to be done in addition to that is to round the lips.

Afrikaans contrasts unrounded and rounded mid central vowels; the latter is usually transcribed with ⟨œ⟩. The contrast is not very stable, and many speakers use an unrounded vowel in both cases.[3]

Some languages, such as Danish[4] and Luxembourgish,[5] have a mid central vowel that is variably rounded. In some other languages, things are more complicated, as the change in rounding is accompanied with the change in height and/or backness. For instance, in Dutch, the unrounded allophone of /ə/ is mid central unrounded [ə], but its word-final rounded allophone is close-mid front rounded [ø̜], close to the main allophone of /ʏ/.[6]

The symbol ⟨ə⟩ is often used for any unstressed obscure vowel, regardless of its precise quality. For instance, the English vowel transcribed ⟨ə⟩ is a central unrounded vowel that can be close-mid [ɘ], mid [ə] or open-mid [ɜ], depending on the environment.[7]

Mid central unrounded vowel

The mid central unrounded vowel is frequently written with the symbol [ə]. If greater precision is desired, the symbol for the close-mid central unrounded vowel may be used with a lowering diacritic, [ɘ̞]. Another possibility is using the symbol for the open-mid central unrounded vowel with a raising diacritic, [ɜ̝].

Features

Occurrence

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Afrikaans Standard[3] lig [ləχ] 'light' Also described as open-mid [ɜ].[8] See Afrikaans phonology
Many speakers[3] lug 'air' Many speakers merge /œ/ with /ə/, even in formal speech.[3] See Afrikaans phonology
Catalan Eastern Catalan[9] amb [əm(b)] 'with' Reduced vowel. The exact height, backness and rounding are variable.[10] See Catalan phonology
Some Western accents[11]
Chinese Mandarin[12] / gēn About this sound[kən˥]  'root' See Standard Chinese phonology
Danish Standard[13][14] hoppe [ˈhʌ̹b̥ə] 'mare' Sometimes realized as rounded [ə̹].[4] See Danish phonology
Dutch Standard[6] renner [ˈrɛnər] 'runner' The backness varies between near-front and central, whereas the height varies between close-mid and open-mid. Many speakers feel that this vowel is simply an unstressed allophone of /ʏ/.[6] See Dutch phonology
English Most dialects[7][15] Tina [ˈtʰiːnə] 'Tina' Reduced vowel; varies in height between close-mid and open-mid. Word-final /ə/ can be as low as [ɐ].[7][15] See English phonology
Cultivated South African[16] bird [bɜ̝ːd] 'bird' May be transcribed in IPA with ⟨ɜː⟩. Other South African varieties use a higher, more front and rounded vowel [øː~ ø̈ː]. See South African English phonology
Norfolk[17]
Received Pronunciation[18] Often transcribed in IPA with ⟨ɜː⟩. It is sulcalized, which means the tongue is grooved like in [ɹ]. 'Upper Crust RP' speakers pronounce a near-open vowel [ɐː], but for some other speakers it may actually be open-mid [ɜː]. This vowel corresponds to rhotacized [ɝ] in rhotic dialects.
Geordie[19] bust [bəst] 'bust' Spoken by some middle class speakers, mostly female; other speakers use [ʊ]. Corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Indian[20] May be lower. Some Indian varieties merge /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ with /ə/ like Welsh English.
Wales[21] May also be further back; it corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Yorkshire[22] Middle class pronunciation. Other speakers use [ʊ]. Corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
German Standard[23] Beschlag About this sound[b̥əˈʃläːk]  'fitting' See Standard German phonology
Southern German accents[24] oder [ˈoːdə] 'or' Used instead of [ɐ].[24] See Standard German phonology
Kensiu[25] [təh] 'to be bald' Contrasts with a rhotacized close-mid [ɚ̝].[25]
Kurdish Sorani (Central) شه‌و [ʃəw] 'night' See Kurdish phonology
Palewani (Southern)
Luxembourgish[5] dënn [d̥ən] 'thin' More often realized as slightly rounded [ə̹].[5] See Luxembourgish phonology
Norwegian Many dialects[26] sterkeste [²stæɾkəstə] 'the strongest' Occurs only in unstressed syllables. The example word is from Urban East Norwegian. Some dialects (e.g. Trondheimsk) lack this sound.[27] See Norwegian phonology
Plautdietsch[28] bediedt [bəˈdit] 'means' The example word is from the Canadian Old Colony variety, in which the vowel is somewhat fronted [ə̟].[28]
Serbo-Croatian[29] vrt [ʋə̂rt̪] 'garden' [ər] is a possible phonetic realization of the syllabic trill /r̩/ when it occurs between consonants.[29] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Swedish Southern[30] vante [²väntə] 'mitten' Corresponds to a slightly retracted front vowel [ɛ̠] in Central Standard Swedish.[30] See Swedish phonology