Mid central vowel

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Mid central vowel
IPA Number322
Entity (decimal)ə
Unicode (hex)U+0259
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[edit]

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].



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
Arabic Najdi قلت [ɡəlt] 'said' reduced vowel found in Peninsular Arabic (except for urban Hejazi) and in Bedouin influenced dialects across the Arab world
Bulgarian[9] пара [ˈparə] 'steam' Possible realization of unstressed /ɤ/ and /a/ in post-stressed syllables.[9] See Bulgarian phonology
Catalan Eastern Catalan[10] amb [əm(b)] 'with' Reduced vowel. The exact height, backness and rounding are variable.[11] See Catalan phonology
Some Western accents[12]
Central Valencian[13] poc [ˈpɔ̞kːə̆] 'little' Vocalic release found in final consonants. It may vary in quality.
Chinese Mandarin[14] / gēn About this sound[kən˥]  'root' See Standard Chinese phonology
Hokkien serm [səm˧] 'forest'
Shanghainese[15] / ken (T1) [kəŋ˥˧] 'to follow' Allophone of /ə/ before nasals.[15]
Danish Standard[16][17] 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][18] Tina [ˈtʰiːnə] 'Tina' Reduced vowel; varies in height between close-mid and open-mid. Word-final /ə/ can be as low as [ɐ].[7][18] See English phonology
Cultivated South African[19] 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
Received Pronunciation[21] 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[22] bust [bəst] 'bust' Spoken by some middle class speakers, mostly female; other speakers use [ʊ]. Corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Indian[23] May be lower. Some Indian varieties merge /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ with /ə/ like Welsh English.
Wales[24] May also be further back; it corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Yorkshire[25] Middle class pronunciation. Other speakers use [ʊ]. Corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Faroese[26] vildi [ˈvɪltə] 'wanted' Unstressed allophone of certain short vowels.[26] See Faroese phonology
Garhwali Standard[27]
[citation check needed]
कूड़ा [kuɽə] 'houses'
German Standard[28] Beschlag About this sound[b̥əˈʃläːk]  'fitting' See Standard German phonology
Southern German accents[29] oder [ˈoːdə] 'or' Used instead of [ɐ].[29] See Standard German phonology
Inuit West Greenlandic[30] [example needed] Allophone of /i/ before and especially between uvulars.[30] See Inuit phonology
Kensiu[31] [təh] 'to be bald'
Kurdish Central kirdibetmânawa[32] [kɯɾ dɯ bɛt mɑː'nəwæː] 'that we have opened it' see Kurdish phonology
Limburgish[33][34] besjeemp [bəˈʃeːmp] 'embarrassed' Occurs only in unstressed syllables.[35][36] The example word is from the Maastrichtian dialect.
Luxembourgish[5] dënn [d̥ən] 'thin' More often realized as slightly rounded [ə̹].[5] See Luxembourgish phonology
Mapudungun[37] füta [ˈfɘtə] "elderly person" Unstressed allophone of /ɐ/.[37]
Norwegian Many dialects[38] 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.[39] See Norwegian phonology
Ossetic Iron ӕз [əʒ] 'I' Usually fronted to [ӕ] in Kudairag
Digoron ӕз [əz]
Plautdietsch[40] bediedt [bəˈdit] 'means' The example word is from the Canadian Old Colony variety, in which the vowel is somewhat fronted [ə̟].[40]
Sema[41] akütsü [ɐ˩ kə t͡sɨ̞] 'black' Possible word-medial allophone of /ɨ/.[41]
Serbo-Croatian[42] vrt [ʋə̂rt̪] 'garden' [ər] is a possible phonetic realization of the syllabic trill /r̩/ when it occurs between consonants.[42] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Swedish Central Standard[43] dd [ˈbɛ̝dːə̆] 'bed' An epenthetic vowel frequently inserted after word-final lenis stops.[44] See Swedish phonology
Southern[45] vante [²väntə] 'mitten' Corresponds to a slightly retracted front vowel [ɛ̠] in Central Standard Swedish.[45] See Swedish phonology
Vastese[46] [example needed]
West Frisian[47] sinne [ˈsɪnə] 'sun' Occurs only in unstressed syllables.[47] See West Frisian phonology

Mid central rounded vowel[edit]

Mid central rounded vowel
Audio sample

Languages may have a mid central rounded vowel (a rounded [ə]), distinct from both the close-mid and open-mid vowels. However, since no language is known to distinguish all three, there is no separate IPA symbol for the mid vowel, and the symbol [ɵ] for the close-mid central rounded vowel is generally used instead. If precision is desired, the lowering diacritic can be used: [ɵ̞]. This vowel can also be represented by adding the more rounded diacritic to the schwa symbol, or by combining the raising diacritic with the open-mid central rounded vowel symbol, although it is rare to use such symbols.



Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Afrikaans Standard[3] lug [lɞ̝χ] 'air' Also described as open-mid [ɞ],[8] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨œ⟩. Many speakers merge /œ/ and /ə/, even in formal speech.[3] See Afrikaans phonology
Cipu Tirisino dialect[48] [dò̞sɵ̞̀nũ̂] 'swim!' Allophone of /o/ in casual speech that occurs when the next syllable contains a close vowel.[48]
Danish Standard[4] hoppe [ˈhʌ̹b̥ə̹] 'mare' Possible realization of /ə/.[4] See Danish phonology
Dutch Southern[49] hut [ɦɵ̞t] 'hut' Found in certain accents, e.g. in Bruges. Close-mid [ɵ] in Standard Dutch.[49] See Dutch phonology
French[50][51] je [ʒə̹] 'I' Only somewhat rounded;[50] may be transcribed in IPA with ⟨ə⟩ or ⟨ɵ⟩. Also described as close-mid [ɵ].[52] May be more front for a number of speakers. See French phonology
German Chemnitz dialect[53] Wonne [ˈv̞ɞ̝nə] 'bliss' Typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨ɞ⟩.[53]
Irish Munster[54] scoil [skɞ̝lʲ] 'school' Allophone of /ɔ/ between a broad and a slender consonant.[54] See Irish phonology
Luxembourgish[5] dënn [d̥ə̹n] 'thin' Only slightly rounded; less often realized as unrounded [ə̜].[5] See Luxembourgish phonology
Norwegian Urban East[55] nøtt [nɞ̝tː] 'nut' Also described as open-mid front [œ̫];[38][56] typically transcribed in IPA with ⟨œ⟩ or ⟨ø⟩. See Norwegian phonology
Plautdietsch Canadian Old Colony[57] butzt [bɵ̞t͡st] 'bumps' Mid-centralized from [ʊ], to which it corresponds in other dialects.[57]
Romanian[58] chemin de fer [ʃɵ̞ˌme̞n̪ d̪ɵ̞ ˈfe̞r] 'chemin de fer' Found only in a handful of French loanwords.[58] See Romanian phonology
Swedish Central Standard[59][60] full About this sound[fɵ̞lː] 'full' Pronounced with compressed lips, more closely transcribed [ɵ̞ᵝ] or [ɘ̞ᵝ]. Less often described as close-mid [ø̈].[61] See Swedish phonology

See also[edit]


  1. ^ International Phonetic Association (1999), p. 167.
  2. ^ "A World of Englishes: Is /ə/ "real"?". Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Wissing (2016), section "The rounded and unrounded mid-central vowels".
  4. ^ a b c d Basbøll (2005), p. 143.
  5. ^ a b c d e Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 70.
  6. ^ a b c Collins & Mees (2003), p. 129.
  7. ^ a b c Wells (2008), p. XXV.
  8. ^ a b Wissing (2012), p. 711.
  9. ^ a b Ternes & Vladimirova-Buhtz (1999), p. 56.
  10. ^ Recasens (1996), pp. 59–60, 104–105.
  11. ^ Recasens (1996), p. 106.
  12. ^ Recasens (1996), p. 98.
  13. ^ Saborit (2009), p. 11.
  14. ^ Lee & Zee (2003), p. 110.
  15. ^ a b Chen & Gussenhoven (2015), p. 328.
  16. ^ Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2011), p. 2.
  17. ^ Basbøll (2005), pp. 57, 143.
  18. ^ a b Gimson (2014), p. 138.
  19. ^ Lass (2002), p. 116.
  20. ^ Lodge (2009), p. 168.
  21. ^ Roach (2004), p. 242.
  22. ^ Watt & Allen (2003), p. 268.
  23. ^ Sailaja (2009), pp. 24–25.
  24. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 380–381.
  25. ^ Stoddart, Upton & Widdowson (1999), pp. 74, 76.
  26. ^ a b Árnason (2011), pp. 89, 94.
  27. ^ Chandola, Anoop Chandra (1963-01-01). "Animal Commands of Garhwali and their Linguistic Implications". WORD. 19 (2): 203–207. doi:10.1080/00437956.1963.11659795. ISSN 0043-7956.
  28. ^ Krech et al. (2009), p. 69.
  29. ^ a b Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 40.
  30. ^ a b Fortescue (1990), p. 317.
  31. ^ Bishop (1996), p. 230.
  32. ^ "Sorani Grammar" (PDF). Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  33. ^ Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), pp. 157, 159.
  34. ^ Peters (2006), pp. 118–119.
  35. ^ Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), p. 157.
  36. ^ Peters (2006), p. 118.
  37. ^ a b Sadowsky et al. (2013), p. 92.
  38. ^ a b Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 20.
  39. ^ Vanvik (1979), p. 21.
  40. ^ a b Cox, Driedger & Tucker (2013), p. 224.
  41. ^ a b Teo (2012), p. 369.
  42. ^ a b Landau et al. (1999), p. 67.
  43. ^ Riad (2014), pp. 48–49.
  44. ^ Riad (2014), p. 48.
  45. ^ a b Riad (2014), p. 22.
  46. ^ "Vastesi Language - Vastesi in the World". Vastesi in the World. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  47. ^ a b Tiersma (1999), p. 11.
  48. ^ a b McGill (2014), pp. 308–309.
  49. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2003:128, 131). The source describes the Standard Dutch vowel as front-central [ɵ̟], but more sources (e.g. van Heuven & Genet (2002) and Verhoeven (2005)) describe it as central [ɵ]. As far as the lowered varieties of this vowel are concerned, Collins and Mees do not describe their exact backness.
  50. ^ a b Fougeron & Smith (1993), p. 73.
  51. ^ Lodge (2009), p. 84.
  52. ^ "english speech services | Le FOOT vowel". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  53. ^ a b Khan & Weise (2013), p. 236.
  54. ^ a b Ó Sé (2000), p. ?.
  55. ^ Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 16-17.
  56. ^ Kvifte & Gude-Husken (2005), p. 2.
  57. ^ a b Cox, Driedger & Tucker (2013), pp. 224–225.
  58. ^ a b Romanian Academy (2005), p. ?.
  59. ^ Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  60. ^ Rosenqvist (2007), p. 9.
  61. ^ Andersson (2002), p. 272.


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External links[edit]