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In
linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include phonetics, phonet ...
, specifically
phonetics Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies how humans produce and perceive sounds, or in the case of sign languages, the equivalent aspects of sign. Phoneticians—linguists who specialize in phonetics—study the physical properties of sp ...
and
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound system of any particular language variety. At one time, the study o ...
, schwa (, rarely or ; sometimes spelled shwa) is the mid central vowel sound (rounded or unrounded) in the middle of the vowel chart, denoted by the IPA symbol , or another
vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels are one of the two principal classes of speech sounds, the other being the consonant. Vowels vary in quality, in loudness and also in Vowel ...
sound close to that position. An example in English is the vowel sound of the 〈a〉 in the word ''about''. Schwa in English is mainly found in
unstressed In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis includ ...
positions, but in some other languages it occurs more frequently as a stressed vowel. In relation to certain languages, the name ''schwa'' and the symbol may be used for some other
unstressed In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis includ ...
and toneless neutral vowel, not necessarily mid central.


Etymology

The term schwa was introduced by German linguists in the 19th century from the
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites, Judeans and their ancestors. It is the o ...
(  , classical pronunciation:   ), the name of the sign used to indicate the phoneme. It was first used in English texts between 1890 and 1895. The symbol 〈ə〉 was used first by
Johann Andreas Schmeller
Johann Andreas Schmeller
for the reduced vowel at the end of the
German language The German language (, ) is a West Germanic language mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Italy, Italian province of South ...
name .
Alexander John Ellis Alexander John Ellis, (14 June 1814 – 28 October 1890) was an English mathematician, philology, philologist and early phonetics, phonetician who also influenced the field of musicology. He changed his name from his father's name Sharpe to his ...
, in his Palaeotype alphabet, used it for the similar English sound in ''but'' . The origin of the symbol 〈ə〉 is an 〈e〉 turned 180 degrees.


Description

Sometimes the term ''schwa'' is used for any epenthetic
vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels are one of the two principal classes of speech sounds, the other being the consonant. Vowels vary in quality, in loudness and also in Vowel ...
, but some languages use different epenthetic vowels (
Navajo The Navajo (; English: Navaho; nv, Diné or ') are a Native American people of the Southwestern United States. At more than 300,000 enrolled tribal members , the Navajo Nation is the largest federally recognized tribe in the U.S. (the Chero ...
uses ). In
English
English
, schwa is the most common vowel sound. It is a reduced vowel in many unstressed syllables especially if syllabic consonants are not used. Depending on dialect, it may be written using any of the following letters: *〈a〉, as in ''about'' *〈e〉, as in ''taken'' *〈i〉, as in ''pencil'' *〈o〉, as in ''memory'' *〈u〉, as in ''supply'' *〈y〉, as in ''sibyl'' *unwritten, as in ''rhythm'' Schwa is a very vowel length, short neutral vowel sound and, like all other vowels, its precise quality varies depending on the adjacent consonants. In most varieties of English, schwa occurs almost exclusively in unstressed syllables. (There is also an open-mid central unrounded vowel or "long schwa", represented as , which occurs in some Rhoticity in English, non-rhotic dialects' stressed syllables, as in ''bird'' and ''alert''.) In New Zealand English, the high front lax vowel (as in the word ''bit'' ) has Vowel shift, shifted open and back to sound like schwa, and both stressed and unstressed schwas exist. To a certain extent, that is true for South African English as well. In General American English, schwa and are the two vowel sounds that can be r-colored vowel, r-colored (rhotacized); r-colored schwa is used in words with unstressed 〈er〉 syllables, such as ''dinner''. See also stress and vowel reduction in English. Welsh language, Welsh uses the letter 〈y〉 to represent schwa, which is a phonemic vowel rather than the realisation of an unstressed vowel. The letter 〈y〉 represents schwa in all positions except in final syllables where it represents or . For example, the word ''ysbyty'' ("hospital") is pronounced . Quite a few languages have a sound similar to schwa. It is similar to a short French language, French unaccented 〈e〉, which is rounded and less central, more like an open-mid front rounded vowel, open-mid or close-mid front rounded vowel. It is almost always unstressed, but Albanian language, Albanian, Bulgarian language, Bulgarian, Slovene language, Slovene and Afrikaans language, Afrikaans are some of the languages that allow stressed schwas. In most dialects of Russian language, Russian unstressed 〈a〉 and 〈o〉 Vowel reduction in Russian#Back vowels, reduce to either or schwa. In dialects of Kashubian language, Kashubian a schwa occurs in place of the Old Polish language, Old Polish short consonants 〈u〉, 〈i〉, 〈y〉. Many Languages of the Caucasus, Caucasian languages and some Uralic languages (like Komi language, Komi) also use phonemic schwa, and allow schwas to be stressed. In the Eastern dialects of Catalan language, Catalan, including the standard variety, based in the dialect spoken in and around Barcelona, an unstressed or is pronounced as a schwa (called , 'neutral vowel'). A stressed schwa can occur in the Catalan dialects spoken in the Balearic Islands, as well as in Romanian language, Romanian, as in ('broom'). In European Portuguese, European and some Portuguese language in Africa, African dialects of Portuguese language, Portuguese, the schwa occurs in many unstressed syllables that end in , such as ('night'), ('afternoon'), ('peach'), and ('sin'). However, that is rare in Brazilian Portuguese except in such areas as Curitiba in Paraná (state), Paraná. In Neapolitan language, Neapolitan, a final, unstressed , and unstressed and are pronounced as a schwa: ('pizza'), ('week'), ('orange'). The inherent vowel in the Devanagari script, an abugida used to write Hindi, Marathi language, Marathi, Nepali language, Nepali and Sanskrit, is a schwa, written either in isolation or word-initially. Other characters used to represent this sound include in Armenian language, Armenian, in Romanian, and in Albanian. In Bulgarian Cyrillic script, Cyrillic, the letter , which has a very different orthographic function in Modern Russian, is used. In languages such as Polish language, Polish and Spanish language, Spanish there is no such sound that would resemble the "schwa" characteristics. In most Sanskrit-based languages, the schwa is the implied vowel after every consonant and so has no didactic marks. For example, in Hindi, the character 〈 क 〉 is pronounced /kə/ without marking, but 〈 के 〉 is pronounced /ke/ (like "kay") with a marking. A subscript small schwa (ₔ) is used in Indo-European studies.


Examples


Albanian

In Albanian, schwa is represented by the letter , which is also one of the letters of the Albanian alphabet, coming right after the letter . It can be stressed like in words and ('sweet' and 'dream', respectively).


Armenian

In Armenian, schwa is represented by the letter 〈 ը 〉 (capital 〈 Ը 〉). It is occasionally word-initial but usually word-final, as a form of the definite article. Unwritten schwa sounds are also inserted to split initial consonant clusters; for example, () 'sparrow'.


Azerbaijani

In the Azerbaijani alphabet, the schwa character 〈ə〉 is used, but to represent the Near-open front unrounded vowel, sound.


Catalan

In Catalan, schwa is represented by the letters 〈a〉 or 〈e〉 in unstressed syllables: ('father'), . In the Balearic Islands, the sound is sometimes also in stressed vowels, ('pear').


Dutch

In Dutch language, Dutch, the digraph in the suffix , as in ('probably'), is pronounced as a schwa. If an falls at the ultimate (or penultimate) place before a consonant in Dutch words and is unstressed, it becomes a schwa, as in the verb ending () and the diminutive suffix (). The article "een" ('a[n]') is pronounced using the schwa, , while the number "een" ('one') or "één" is pronounced .


German

In German language, German, schwa is represented by the letter 〈e〉 and occurs only in unstressed syllables, as in . Schwa is not native to Bavarian dialects of German spoken in Southern Germany and Austria. Vowels that are realized as schwa in Standard German change to , , or . In compound words, like , and borrowed terms, like , unstressed 〈e〉 is not reduced and retains its usual value of (if long) or (if short).


Korean

The schwa is rarely used in Korean phonology. It is an alternative form of . For example, () .


Madurese

In Madurese language, Madurese, an 〈a〉 in some words, usually in non-final position, would be pronounced as the schwa. When writing Madurese in its traditional abugida, Javanese script, Hanacaraka, such words would not be written with a vowel diacritic denoting a schwa. Nowadays, even after the Madurese people have adopted the Latin alphabet, such writing fashion is still used. Examples are: * () – Javanese people, Javanese, Java Island * () – sea, ocean * () – to sail * () – Surabaya * () – Madurese people, Madurese, Madura Island * () – Moon


Malay

In the Indonesian language, Indonesian variant, schwa is always unstressed except for Jakarta-influenced informal Indonesian, whose schwa can be stressed. In final closed syllables in the formal register, the vowel is 〈a〉 (the final syllable is usually the second syllable since most Indonesian root words consist of two syllables). In some cases, the vowel 〈a〉 is pronounced as a stressed schwa (only when the vowel 〈a〉 is located between two consonants in a syllable), but never in formal speech: * ('come'), pronounced , and often informally written as . * ('viscous'), pronounced . * ('black'), pronounced , informally written as . * ('deep', 'in'), pronounced , often written as . * ('night'), pronounced , informally written as . Indonesian orthography formerly used unmarked only for the schwa sound, and the full vowel was written . Malaysian orthography, on the other hand, formerly indicated the schwa with (called ), and unmarked stood for . In the 1972 spelling reform that unified Indonesian and Malaysian spelling conventions (''Differences between Malay and Indonesian#Orthography, Ejaan yang Disempurnakan'', regulated by MABBIM), it was agreed to use neither diacritic.Asmah Haji Omar, There is no longer an orthographic distinction between and ; both are spelled with an unmarked . For example, the word for 'wheeled vehicle' in Indonesia and Malaysia, which was formerly spelled in Indonesia and in Malaysia, is now spelled in both countries. This means that the pronunciation of any given letter in both Indonesian and Malaysian variants is not immediately obvious to the learner and must be learned separately. However, in a number of Indonesian dictionaries and lesson books for foreign learners, the notation is preserved to help learners. In Southern Malaysian pronunciation, which is predominant in common Malaysian media, the final letter represents schwa, and final 〈-ah〉 stands for . The dialect of Kedah in northern Malaysia, however, pronounces final 〈-a〉 as also. In loanwords, a non-final short /a/ may become schwa in Malay such as (

Norwegian

In Norwegian, the schwa is often found in the last syllable of definite, masculine nouns, as in ('the man'), as well as in infinitive verbs like ('bite').


Romanian

In Romanian, schwa is represented by the letter Ă, 〈Ă〉, ă, 〈ă〉, which is considered a letter on its own (the second in the Romanian alphabet). It can be stressed in words in which it is the only vowel such as ('hair' or 'pear tree') or ('I see'). Some words which also contain other vowels can have the stress on 〈ă〉: ('the books') and ('rooms').


Serbo-Croatian

In Serbo-Croatian, schwa is not a phoneme, but it is often colloquially used to pronounce names of consonants. For example, the official name of the letter is pronounced , but in everyday speech, it is often called .


Welsh

The schwa is denoted in Welsh by the letter 〈y〉. It is a very common letter as is the definite article with being the definite article if the following word starts with a vowel.


Yiddish

Schwa is normally represented in Yiddish by the Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew letter 〈ע〉 (Ayin) and, as in German language, German, occurs only in unstressed syllables, as in () /ɡəˈfɪltə fɪʃ/ ('stuffed fish'). In words derived from
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites, Judeans and their ancestors. It is the o ...
, which retain their original orthography but undergo significant phonological change, schwa may be represented by another letter, as in () ('rabbi'), or by no letter at all, as in שבת () ('Shabbat').


Schwa syncope

In phonology, Syncope (phonology), syncope is the process of deleting unstressed sounds, particularly unstressed vowels. Across languages, schwa vowels are commonly deleted in some instances, such as in Hindi, North American English, French language, French and Modern Hebrew.


Hindi

Although the Devanagari script is used as a standard to write Modern Hindi, the schwa (, sometimes written as ) implicit in each consonant of the script is "obligatorily deleted" at the end of words and in certain other contexts. The phenomenon has been termed the "schwa deletion rule" of Hindi. One formalization of the rule has been summarized as ''ə → ∅ /VC_CV''. In other words, when a vowel-preceded consonant is followed by a vowel-succeeded consonant, the schwa inherent in the first consonant is deleted. However, the formalization is inexact and incomplete (it sometimes deletes a schwa that exists, and it fails to delete some schwas that it should) and so can yield errors. Schwa deletion is computationally important because it is essential to building speech synthesis, text-to-speech software for Hindi. As a result of schwa syncope, the correct Hindi pronunciation of many words differs from that expected from a literal rendering of Devanagari. For instance, is (expected: ), is (expected: ), is (expected: ) and is (expected: ). Correct schwa deletion is critical also because the same Devanagari letter sequence can sometimes be pronounced two different ways in Hindi depending on the context: failure to delete the appropriate schwas can then change the meaning. For instance, the sequence in ("the heart started beating") and in ("beats of the heart") is identical prior to the nasalization in the second usage. However, it is pronounced ''dhadak.ne'' in the first and ''dhad.kaneṁ'' in the second. While native speakers correctly pronounce the sequence differently in different contexts, non-native speakers and voice-synthesis software can make them "sound very unnatural", making it "extremely difficult for the listener" to grasp the intended meaning.


American English

Some forms of American English have the tendency to delete a schwa when it appears in a mid-word syllable that comes after the stressed syllable. Kenstowicz (1994) states, "American English schwa deletes in medial posttonic syllables". He gives as examples words such as ''sep(a)rate'' (as an adjective), ''choc(o)late'', ''cam(e)ra'' and ''elab(o)rate'' (as an adjective), where the schwa (represented by the letters in parentheses) has a tendency to be deleted. Other examples include ''fam(i)ly'' , ''ev(e)ry'' , and ''diff(e)rent'' .


French

Schwa is deleted in certain positions in French language, French.


References


Further reading

* *{{cite web , url=http://www.vanoostendorp.nl/fonologie/schwaip.htm , title=Schwa in Phonological Theory , access-date=2008-01-29 , author=Marc van Oostendorp , year=1999 Niqqud Vowels