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

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, which is called a "schwa".

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: "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]

Danish[4] and Luxembourgish[5] have a mid central vowel that is variably rounded. In other languages, 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].



Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Albanian një [ɲə] 'one'
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
Bhojpuri [kər] 'to do'
Catalan Balearic sec [ˈsək] 'dry' Stressable schwa that corresponds to the open-mid [ɛ] in Eastern dialects and the close-mid [e] in Western dialects. See Catalan phonology
Eastern[9] amb [əm(b)] 'with' Reduced vowel. The exact height, backness and rounding are variable.[10] See Catalan phonology
Some Western accents[11]
Chinese Hokkien lêr () [lə˧˥] 'snail'
Chuvash ăман [əm'an] 'worm'
Danish Standard[12][13] hoppe [ˈhʌ̹pə] '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][14] Tina [ˈtʰiːnə] 'Tina' Reduced vowel; varies in height between close-mid and open-mid. Word-final /ə/ can be as low as [ɐ].[7][14] See English phonology
Cultivated South African[15] 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[17] 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[18] bust [bəst] 'bust' Spoken by some middle class speakers, mostly female; other speakers use [ʊ]. Corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Indian[19] May be lower. Some Indian varieties merge /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ with /ə/ like Welsh English.
Wales[20] May also be further back; it corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Yorkshire[21] Middle class pronunciation. Other speakers use [ʊ]. Corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Faroese Tórshavn vátur [ˈvɔaːtəɹ] 'yellow' See Faroese phonology
Northeastern dialects [ˈvaːtəɹ]
Galician Some dialects leite [ˈlejtə] 'milk' Alternative realization of final unstressed /e/ or /ɛ/ (normally [i~ɪ~e̝])
fenecer [fənəˈs̪eɾ] 'to die' Alternative realization of unstressed /e/ or /ɛ/ in any position
German Standard[22] Beschlag [b̥əˈʃläːk] 'fitting' See Standard German phonology
Southern German accents[23] oder [ˈoːdə] 'or' Used instead of [ɐ].[23] See Standard German phonology
Georgian[24] დგას/dgas [dəɡas] 1st person singular 'to stand' Phonetically inserted to break up consonant clusters. See Georgian phonology
Kashmiri کٔژ [kət͡s] 'how many'
Kensiu[25] [təh] 'to be bald' Contrasts with a rhotacized close-mid [ɚ̝].[25]
Khmer ដឹក dœ̆k [ɗək] 'to transport' See Khmer phonology
Kurdish Sorani (Central) شه‌و/şew [ʃəw] 'night' See Kurdish phonology
Palewani (Southern)
Luxembourgish[5] dënn [d̥ən] 'thin' More often realized as slightly rounded [ə̹].[5] See Luxembourgish phonology
Malay Standard Indonesian lelah [lə.lah] 'tired' See Malay phonology
Standard Malaysian pengadil [pə.ŋä.dɪl] 'referee'
Johor-Riau apa [ä.pə] 'what' Common realization of /a/ at the end of words and before /h/. See Malay phonology
Terengganu Common realization of /a/ at the end of words and before /h/. See Terengganu Malay
Jakartan dialect datang [da.təŋ] 'to come' Usually occurs around Jakarta. If the letter /a/ is located in the last syllable between consonants, the sound changes from [a] to [ə]. For the dialects in Sumatra in which the /a/ letter ([a]) in the last syllable changes to an [ə] sound, see Malay phonology.
Moksha търва [tərvaˑ] 'lip' See Moksha 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]
Portuguese Brazilian[29] maçã [maˈsə̃ᵑ] 'apple' Possible realization of final stressed /ɐ̃/. Also can be open-mid [ɜ̃].[30]
Romanian[31] păros [pəˈros] 'hairy' See Romanian phonology
Serbo-Croatian[32] vrt [ʋə̂rt̪] 'garden' [ər] is a possible phonetic realization of the syllabic trill /r̩/ when it occurs between consonants.[32] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Swedish Southern[33] vante [²väntə] 'mitten' Corresponds to a slightly retracted front vowel [ɛ̠] in Central Standard Swedish.[33] See Swedish phonology
Tyap tan [ətan] 'ɡood'
Welsh mynydd [mənɪð] 'mountain' See Welsh phonology

Mid central rounded vowel

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
Danish Standard[4] hoppe [ˈhʌ̹pə̹] 'mare' Possible realization of /ə/.[4] See Danish phonology
Dutch Southern[34] hut [ɦɵ̞t] 'hut' Found in certain accents, e.g. in Bruges. Close-mid [ɵ] in Standard Dutch.[34] See Dutch phonology
English California[35] foot [fɵ̞ʔt] 'foot' Part of the California vowel shift.[35][failed verification] Typically transcribed in IPA with ʊ.
French[36][37] je [ʒə̹] 'I' Only somewhat rounded;[36] may be transcribed in IPA with ə or ɵ. Also described as close-mid [ɵ].[38] May be more front for a number of speakers. See French phonology
German Chemnitz dialect[39] Wonne [ˈv̞ɞ̝nə] 'bliss' Typically transcribed in IPA with ɞ.[39]
Irish Munster[40] scoil [skɞ̝lʲ] 'school' Allophone of /ɔ/ between a broad and a slender consonant.[40] See Irish phonology
Luxembourgish[5] dënn [d̥ə̹n] 'thin' Only slightly rounded; less often realized as unrounded [ə̜].[5] See Luxembourgish phonology
Norwegian Urban East[41] nøtt [nɞ̝tː] 'nut' Also described as open-mid front [œʷ];[26][42] typically transcribed in IPA with œ or ø. See Norwegian phonology
Plautdietsch Canadian Old Colony[43] butzt [bɵ̞t͡st] 'bumps' Mid-centralized from [ʊ], to which it corresponds in other dialects.[43]
Swedish Central Standard[44][45] full [fɵ̞lː] 'full' Pronounced with compressed lips, more closely transcribed [ɵ̞ᵝ] or [ɘ̞ᵝ]. Less often described as close-mid [ø̈].[46] See Swedish phonology
Tajik Northern dialects кӯҳ/kūh [kɵ̞h] 'mountain' Typically described as close-mid [ɵ]. See Tajik phonology


  1. ^ International Phonetic Association (1999), p. 167.
  2. ^ "A World of Englishes: Is /ə/ "real"?". 19 June 2013. 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. ^ Recasens (1996), pp. 59–60, 104–105.
  10. ^ Recasens (1996), p. 106.
  11. ^ Recasens (1996), p. 98.
  12. ^ Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2011), p. 2.
  13. ^ Basbøll (2005), pp. 57, 143.
  14. ^ a b Gimson (2014), p. 138.
  15. ^ Lass (2002), p. 116.
  16. ^ Lodge (2009), p. 168.
  17. ^ Roach (2004), p. 242.
  18. ^ Watt & Allen (2003), p. 268.
  19. ^ Sailaja (2009), pp. 24–25.
  20. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 380–381.
  21. ^ Stoddart, Upton & Widdowson (1999), pp. 74, 76.
  22. ^ Krech et al. (2009), p. 69.
  23. ^ a b Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 40.
  24. ^ McCoy, Priscilla (1999), Harmony and Sonority in Georgian (PDF)
  25. ^ a b Bishop (1996), p. 230.
  26. ^ a b Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 20.
  27. ^ Vanvik (1979), p. 21.
  28. ^ a b Cox, Driedger & Tucker (2013), p. 224.
  29. ^ Battisti, Elisa; Gomes de Oliveira, Samuel (2019). "Elevação da vogal /a/ em contexto nasal em português brasileiro: estudo preliminar". Lingüística. 35 (1): 36. doi:10.5935/2079-312x.20190003. hdl:10183/197298. ISSN 2079-312X.
  30. ^ Rothe-Neves & Valentim (1996), p. 112.
  31. ^ Chițoran (2001:7)
  32. ^ a b Landau et al. (1999), p. 67.
  33. ^ a b Riad (2014), p. 22.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ a b Eckert, Penelope. "Vowel Shifts in California and the Detroit Suburbs". Stanford University.
  36. ^ a b Fougeron & Smith (1993), p. 73.
  37. ^ Lodge (2009), p. 84.
  38. ^ "english speech services | Le FOOT vowel". 15 January 2012. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  39. ^ a b Khan & Weise (2013), p. 236.
  40. ^ a b Ó Sé (2000), p. ?.
  41. ^ Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 16–17.
  42. ^ Kvifte & Gude-Husken (2005), p. 2.
  43. ^ a b Cox, Driedger & Tucker (2013), pp. 224–225.
  44. ^ Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  45. ^ Rosenqvist (2007), p. 9.
  46. ^ Andersson (2002), p. 272.


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