Mid central vowel

Mid central vowel
IPA number 322
Entity (decimal) ə
Unicode (hex) U+0259
Kirshenbaum @
Braille ⠢ (braille pattern dots-26)
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IPA vowel chart
Front Near-front Central Near-back Back
i  y
ɨ  ʉ
ɯ  u
ɪ  ʏ
ɪ̈  ʊ̈
ɯ̽  ʊ
e  ø
ɘ  ɵ
ɤ  o
ə  ɵ̞
ɛ  œ
ɜ  ɞ
ʌ  ɔ
ɐ  ɞ̞
a  ɶ
ä  ɒ̈
ɑ  ɒ
Paired vowels are: unrounded  rounded
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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]

Some languages, such as Danish[3] and Luxembourgish,[4] 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 [ə], but its word-final rounded allophone is close-mid near-front [ø̠].[5]

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.[6]

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
Adyghe зы  [zəː]  'one'
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic ?/sətwa [sətwɐ] 'winter' Most speakers. Usually raised to [ɪ] in some Tyari dialects.
Bulgarian[7] пара [ˈparə] 'steam' Possible realization of unstressed /ɤ/ and /a/ in post-stressed syllables.[7] See Bulgarian phonology
Catalan Eastern Catalan[8] amb [əm(b)] 'with' Reduced vowel. See Catalan phonology
Most Balearic speakers[8] sec [ˈsək̟] 'dry'
Central Valencian[9] poc [ˈpɒ̝kːə] 'little' Vocalic release found in final consonants. It may vary in quality.
Chinese Mandarin /gēn  [kən˥]  'root' See Standard Chinese phonology
Danish Standard[10][11] hoppe [ˈhɒ̜̽b̥ə] 'mare' Sometimes realized as rounded [ɵ̞].[3] See Danish phonology
Dutch[5] renner [ˈrɛnər] 'runner' See Dutch phonology
English Most dialects Tina [ˈtʰiːnə] 'Tina' Reduced vowel; varies in quality. See English phonology
Cultivated South African[12] bird [bəːd] 'bird' May be transcribed in IPA with ɜː. Other South African varieties use a higher, more front and rounded vowel [øː~ ø̈ː].
Received Pronunciation[14] 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.
Indian[15] bust [bəst] 'bust' May be lower. Some Indian varieties merge /ʌ/ and /ə/ like Welsh English.
Wales[16] May also be further back; it corresponds to /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Yorkshire[17] Middle class pronunciation. Other speakers use [ʊ]. Corresponds to /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Estonian[18] kõrv [kərv] 'ear' Typically transcribed in IPA with ɤ; can be mid back [ɤ̞] or close back [ɯ] instead, depending on the speaker.[18] See Estonian phonology
Garhwali Standard कूड़ा [kuɽə] 'houses' Plural of 'कूडु' or 'House'.[19]
German Standard[20][21] bitte [ˈbɪtə] 'please' Also described as close-mid [ɘ].[22] See Standard German phonology
Chemnitz dialect[23] Wonne [ˈʋɞ̝n̪ə] 'bliss' See Chemnitz dialect phonology
Hindustani दस/دَس [ˈd̪əs] 'ten' See Hindustani phonology
Inuit West Greenlandic[24] Allophone of /i/ before and especially between uvulars.[24] See Inuit phonology
Kabardian щы  [ɕəː]  'three'
Kashubian jãzëk [jãzək] 'language'
Kensiu[25] [təh] 'to be bald'
Limburgish[26][27][28][29] besjeemp [bəˈʃeːmp] 'embarrassed' Occurs only in unstressed syllables.[26][30][31][32] The example word is from the Maastrichtian dialect.
Luxembourgish[4][33] dënn [d̥ən] 'thin' More often realized as slightly rounded [ɵ̞].[4] See Luxembourgish phonology
Macedonian к’смет [ˈkəs̪mɛt̪] 'luck' (archaic) Not considered a vowel phoneme. See Macedonian phonology
Malay Melayu [məlaju] 'Malay'
Marathi करा [əkˈra] 'eleven' See Marathi phonology.
Neapolitan guaglione [gwaˈʎːonə] 'boy'
Palauan tilobęd [tilobəd] 'came'
Pashto غوښه [ˈɣwəʂa] 'meat' See Pashto dialects
Piedmontese përché [pərˈke] 'why' May be realized as [a] or [ɑ] instead, depending on the variety.
Portuguese European[34] pagar [pɜ̝ˈɣaɾ] 'to pay' Often corresponds to a near-open vowel [ɐ] in Brazilian Portuguese.[35] See Portuguese phonology
São Paulo[36] cama [ˈkəmɐ] 'bed' Shorter nasal resonance or complete oral vowel in São Paulo and Southern Brazil, while nasal vowel in many other Portuguese dialects.
Southern Brazil
Some speakers[37] conviver [kũviˈveə̯ɾ] 'to coexist' Primarily in Portugal, but also stereotyped as a characteristic of the dialect of Rio de Janeiro (where [ə] for /ɐ/ is also dominant).[38]
Punjabi ਅਮਨ [əmən] 'peace'
Romanian măr [mər] 'apple' Also described as open-mid [ɜ]. See Romanian phonology
Russian это  [ˈɛt̪ə]  'this' Unstressed allophone of several vowels. See Russian phonology
Sema[39][40] akütsü [ɐ˩ kə t͡sɨ̞] 'black' Possible word-medial allophone of /ɨ/.[39][40]
Swedish be [bəˈɡoː] 'to commit' Unstressed allophone of /ɛ/, see Swedish phonology
Welsh Cymru  [ˈkəmrɨ]  'Wales' See Welsh phonology
West Frisian gewoan [ɡəˈʋoə̯n] 'normal'

Mid central rounded vowel

Mid central rounded vowel

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
Danish Standard[3] hoppe [ˈhɒ̜̽b̥ɵ̞] 'mare' Possible realization of /ə/.[3] See Danish phonology
Dutch Standard Belgian[42] neus [nɵ̞ːs] 'nose' Also described as close-mid near-front [ø̠ː]; usually transcribed in IPA with øː. Diphthongized to [ø̠ʏ̯] in the Standard Netherlandic accent.[43][44] See Dutch phonology
English Some speakers of
New England English[45]
most [mɵ̞st] 'most' Diphthongized to [ɵ̞ə̯] before /n, t, d/; many speakers tend to merge it with /oʊ/.[45] See English phonology
French[46] je [ʒɵ̞] 'I' Only somewhat rounded;[46] may be transcribed in IPA with ɵ or ə. May be more front for a number of speakers. See French phonology
German Chemnitz dialect[23] Wonne [ˈʋɵ̞n̪ə] 'bliss' Typically transcribed in IPA with ɞ. See Chemnitz dialect phonology
Irish Munster[47] scoil [skɵ̞lʲ] 'school' Allophone of /ɔ/ between a broad and a slender consonant.[47] See Irish phonology
Luxembourgish[4] dënn [d̥ɵ̞n] 'thin' Slightly rounded; less often realized as unrounded [ə].[4] See Luxembourgish phonology
Swedish Central Standard[48] full  [fɵ̞lː]  'full' Pronounced with compressed lips, more closely transcribed [ɵ̞ᵝ] or [ɘ̞ᵝ]. See Swedish phonology

See also


  1. International Phonetic Association (1999:167)
  2. "A World of Englishes: Is /ə/ "real"?". Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Basbøll (2005:143)
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Gilles & Trouvain (2013:70)
  5. 1 2 Collins & Mees (2003:129)
  6. Wells (2008:XXV). The source talks about both Received Pronunciation and General American.
  7. 1 2 Ternes & Vladimirova-Buhtz (1999:56)
  8. 1 2 Recasens (1996:59–60)
  9. Saborit (2009:11)
  10. Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2011:2)
  11. Basbøll (2005:57, 143)
  12. Lass (2002:116)
  13. Lodge (2009:168)
  14. Roach (2004:242)
  15. Sailaja (2009:24–25)
  16. Wells (1982a:380–381)
  17. Stoddart, Upton & Widdowson (1999:74 and 76)
  18. 1 2 Asu & Teras (2009:368–369)
  19. 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.
  20. Kohler (1999:87)
  21. Mangold (2005:37)
  22. "John Wells's phonetic blog: ɘ". Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  23. 1 2 Khan & Weise (2013:236)
  24. 1 2 Fortescue (1990), p. 317.
  25. Bishop (1996), p. 230.
  26. 1 2 Verhoeven (2007), p. 220.
  27. Peters (2006), pp. 118–119.
  28. Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), pp. 157, 159.
  29. Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998), pp. 108, 110.
  30. Peters (2006), p. 118.
  31. Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), p. 157.
  32. Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998), p. 108.
  33. Trouvain & Gilles (2009:75)
  34. Cruz-Ferreira (1995:91)
  35. Barbosa & Albano (2004:229)
  36. Produção da Fala. Marchal, Alain & Reis, César. p. 169.
  37. Lista das marcas dialetais e ouros fenómenos de variação (fonética e fonológica) identificados nas amostras do Arquivo Dialetal do CLUP (Portuguese)
  38. Ditongações do falar carioca – WordReference (Portuguese)
  39. 1 2 Teo (2012:369)
  40. 1 2 Teo (2014:28)
  41. "Vastesi Language - Vastesi in the World". Vastesi in the World. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  42. Verhoeven (2005:245)
  43. Collins & Mees (2003:133–135)
  44. Gussenhoven (1992:47)
  45. 1 2 Wells (1982b:525)
  46. 1 2 Fougeron & Smith (1993:73)
  47. 1 2 Ó Sé (2000)
  48. Engstrand (1999:140)


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