Mid central vowel

Mid central vowel
IPA number 322
Entity (decimal) ə
Unicode (hex) U+0259
Kirshenbaum @
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IPA: Vowels
Front Central Back

Paired vowels are: unrounded  rounded

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].


  • It is unrounded, which means that the lips are not rounded.


AfrikaansStandard[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 [gəlt] '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
CatalanEastern 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.
ChineseMandarin[14] / gēn [kən˥] 'root'See Standard Chinese phonology
Shanghainese[15][kəŋ¹]'to follow'Allophone of /ə/ before nasals.[15]
DanishStandard[16][17]hoppe[ˈhʌ̹b̥ə]'mare'Sometimes realized as rounded [ə̹].[4] See Danish phonology
DutchStandard[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
EnglishMost 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
GermanStandard[28][29]bitte[ˈbɪtə]'please'Also described as close-mid [ɘ].[30] See Standard German phonology
Southern German accents[31]oder[ˈoːdə]'or'Used instead of [ɐ].[31] See Standard German phonology
InuitWest Greenlandic[32]Allophone of /i/ before and especially between uvulars.[32] See Inuit phonology
Kensiu[33][təh]'to be bald'
KurdishCentral Kurdishkirdibetmânawa[34][kɯɾ dɯ bɛt mɑː'nəwæː]'that we have opened it'see Kurdish phonology
Limburgish[35][36]besjeemp[bəˈʃeːmp]'embarrassed'Occurs only in unstressed syllables.[37][38] The example word is from the Maastrichtian dialect.
Luxembourgish[5]dënn[d̥ən]'thin'More often realized as slightly rounded [ə̹].[5] See Luxembourgish phonology
NorwegianUrban East[39]sterkeste[²stæɾkəstə]'the strongest'Also described as close-mid [ɘ];[40] occurs only in unstressed syllables. Some dialects (e.g. Trondheimsk) lack this sound.[41] See Norwegian phonology
Ossetic Iron ӕз [əʒ] 'I' Usually fronted to [ӕ] in Kudairag
Digoron ӕз [əz]
Plautdietsch[42]bediedt[bəˈdit]'means'The example word is from the Canadian Old Colony variety, in which the vowel is somewhat fronted [ə̟].[42]
PortugueseEuropean[43]pagar[pəˈɣäɾ]'to pay'Often corresponds to a near-open [ɐ] in Brazilian Portuguese.[44] See Portuguese phonology
São Paulo[45]cama[ˈkəmɐ]'bed'Shorter nasal resonance or complete oral vowel in São Paulo and Southern Brazil, while nasal vowel in many other Portuguese dialects.
Sema[46]akütsü[ɐ˩ kə t͡sɨ̞]'black'Possible word-medial allophone of /ɨ/.[46]
Serbo-Croatian[47]vrt / врт[ʋə̂rt̪]'garden'[ər] is a possible phonetic realization of the syllabic trill /r̩/ when it occurs between consonants.[47] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
SwedishCentral Standard[48]dd[ˈbɛ̝dːə̆]'bed'An epenthetic vowel frequently inserted after word-final lenis stops.[49] See Swedish phonology
Southern[50]vante[²väntə]'mitten'Corresponds to a slightly retracted front vowel [ɛ̠] in Central Standard Swedish.[50] See Swedish phonology
West Frisian[52]sinne[ˈsɪnə]'sun'Occurs only in unstressed syllables.[52] See West Frisian phonology

Mid central rounded vowel

Mid central rounded vowel
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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.


  • It is rounded, which means that the lips are rounded rather than spread or relaxed.


AfrikaansStandard[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
CipuTirisino dialect[53][dò̞sɵ̞̀nũ̂]'swim!'Allophone of /o/ in casual speech that occurs when the next syllable contains one of the close vowels /i, u/.[53]
DanishStandard[4]hoppe[ˈhʌ̹b̥ə̹]'mare'Possible realization of /ə/.[4] See Danish phonology
DutchStandard Belgian[54]neus[nɵ̞ːs]'nose'Also described as close-mid front [øː]; usually transcribed in IPA with øː. Diphthongized to [øʏ] in the Standard Northern accent.[55][56] See Dutch phonology
EnglishNew England English[57]most[mɵ̞st]'most'Some speakers. Diphthongized to [ɵ̞ə̯] before /n, t, d/; many speakers tend to merge it with /oʊ/.[57] See English phonology
French[58][59]je[ʒɵ̞]'I'Only somewhat rounded;[58] may be transcribed in IPA with ɵ or ə. May be more front for a number of speakers. See French phonology
GermanChemnitz dialect[60]Wonne[ˈʋɞ̝n̪ə]'bliss'Typically transcribed in IPA with ɞ.[60]
IrishMunster[61]scoil[skɞ̝lʲ]'school'Allophone of /ɔ/ between a broad and a slender consonant.[61] See Irish phonology
Luxembourgish[5]dënn[d̥ə̹n]'thin'Only slightly rounded; less often realized as unrounded [ə̜].[5] See Luxembourgish phonology
PlautdietschCanadian Old Colony[62]butzt[bɵ̞t͡st]'bumps'Mid-centralized from [ʊ], to which it corresponds in other dialects.[62]
Romanian[63]chemin de fer[ʃɵ̞ˌme̞n̪ d̪ɵ̞ ˈfe̞r]'chemin de fer'Found only in loanwords.[63] See Romanian phonology
SwedishCentral Standard[64][65]full [fɵ̞lː]'full'Pronounced with compressed lips, more closely transcribed [ɵ̞ᵝ] or [ɘ̞ᵝ]. See Swedish phonology

See also


  1. International Phonetic Association (1999), p. 167.
  2. "A World of Englishes: Is /ə/ "real"?". Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Wissing (2016), section "The rounded and unrounded mid-central vowels".
  4. 1 2 3 4 Basbøll (2005), p. 143.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 70.
  6. 1 2 3 Collins & Mees (2003), p. 129.
  7. 1 2 3 Wells (2008), p. XXV.
  8. 1 2 Wissing (2012), p. 711.
  9. 1 2 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. 1 2 Chen & Gussenhoven (2015), p. 328.
  16. Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2011), p. 2.
  17. Basbøll (2005), pp. 57, 143.
  18. 1 2 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. 1 2 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. Kohler (1999), p. 87.
  29. Lodge (2009), p. 87.
  30. Collins & Mees (2013), p. 234.
  31. 1 2 Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 40.
  32. 1 2 Fortescue (1990), p. 317.
  33. Bishop (1996), p. 230.
  34. "Sorani Grammar" (PDF). Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  35. Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), pp. 157, 159.
  36. Peters (2006), pp. 118–119.
  37. Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), p. 157.
  38. Peters (2006), p. 118.
  39. Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 20.
  40. Popperwell (2010), p. 16, 31–32.
  41. Vanvik (1979), p. 21.
  42. 1 2 Cox, Driedger & Tucker (2013), p. 224.
  43. Cruz-Ferreira (1995), p. 91.
  44. Barbosa & Albano (2004), p. 229.
  45. Produção da Fala. Marchal, Alain & Reis, César. p. 169.
  46. 1 2 Teo (2012), p. 369.
  47. 1 2 Landau et al. (1999), p. 67.
  48. Riad (2014), pp. 48–49.
  49. Riad (2014), p. 48.
  50. 1 2 Riad (2014), p. 22.
  51. "Vastesi Language - Vastesi in the World". Vastesi in the World. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  52. 1 2 Tiersma (1999), p. 11.
  53. 1 2 McGill (2014), pp. 308–309.
  54. Verhoeven (2005), p. 245.
  55. Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 133–135.
  56. Gussenhoven (1992), p. 47.
  57. 1 2 Wells (1982), p. 525.
  58. 1 2 Fougeron & Smith (1993), p. 73.
  59. Lodge (2009), p. 84.
  60. 1 2 Khan & Weise (2013), p. 236.
  61. 1 2 Ó Sé (2000), p. ?.
  62. 1 2 Cox, Driedger & Tucker (2013), pp. 224–225.
  63. 1 2 Romanian Academy (2005), p. ?.
  64. Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  65. Rosenqvist (2007), p. 9.


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