Mid central vowel

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.

Mid central vowel
IPA Number322
Entity (decimal)ə
Unicode (hex)U+0259
Audio sample
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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
CatalanEastern Catalan[9]amb[əm(b)]'with'Reduced vowel. The exact height, backness and rounding are variable.[10] See Catalan phonology
Some Western accents[11]
ChineseMandarin[12] / gēn[kən˥] 'root'See Standard Chinese phonology
DanishStandard[13][14]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][15]Tina[ˈtʰiːnə]'Tina'Reduced vowel; varies in height between close-mid and open-mid. Word-final /ə/ can be as low as [ɐ].[7][15] See English phonology
Cultivated South African[16]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[18]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[19]bust[bəst]'bust'Spoken by some middle class speakers, mostly female; other speakers use [ʊ]. Corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Indian[20]May be lower. Some Indian varieties merge /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ with /ə/ like Welsh English.
Wales[21]May also be further back; it corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
Yorkshire[22]Middle class pronunciation. Other speakers use [ʊ]. Corresponds to /ɜ/ or /ʌ/ in other dialects.
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
GermanStandard[23]Beschlag[b̥əˈʃläːk] 'fitting'See Standard German phonology
Southern German accents[24]oder[ˈoːdə]'or'Used instead of [ɐ].[24] See Standard German phonology
Kensiu[25][təh]'to be bald'Contrasts with a rhotacized close-mid [ɚ̝].[25]
Kurdish Sorani (Central) شه‌و [ʃəw] 'night' See Kurdish phonology
Palewani (Southern)
Luxembourgish[5]dënn[d̥ən]'thin'More often realized as slightly rounded [ə̹].[5] See Luxembourgish phonology
NorwegianMany 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]
Serbo-Croatian[29]vrt[ʋə̂rt̪]'garden'[ər] is a possible phonetic realization of the syllabic trill /r̩/ when it occurs between consonants.[29] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
SwedishSouthern[30]vante[²väntə]'mitten'Corresponds to a slightly retracted front vowel [ɛ̠] in Central Standard Swedish.[30] See Swedish phonology

Mid central rounded vowel

Mid central rounded vowel
Audio sample
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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
DanishStandard[4]hoppe[ˈhʌ̹b̥ə̹]'mare'Possible realization of /ə/.[4] See Danish phonology
DutchSouthern[31]hut[ɦɵ̞t]'hut'Found in certain accents, e.g. in Bruges. Close-mid [ɵ] in Standard Dutch.[31] See Dutch phonology
French[32][33]je[ʒə̹]'I'Only somewhat rounded;[32] may be transcribed in IPA with ə or ɵ. Also described as close-mid [ɵ].[34] May be more front for a number of speakers. See French phonology
GermanChemnitz dialect[35]Wonne[ˈv̞ɞ̝nə]'bliss'Typically transcribed in IPA with ɞ.[35]
IrishMunster[36]scoil[skɞ̝lʲ]'school'Allophone of /ɔ/ between a broad and a slender consonant.[36] See Irish phonology
Luxembourgish[5]dënn[d̥ə̹n]'thin'Only slightly rounded; less often realized as unrounded [ə̜].[5] See Luxembourgish phonology
NorwegianUrban East[37]nøtt[nɞ̝tː]'nut'Also described as open-mid front [œʷ];[26][38] typically transcribed in IPA with œ or ø. See Norwegian phonology
PlautdietschCanadian Old Colony[39]butzt[bɵ̞t͡st]'bumps'Mid-centralized from [ʊ], to which it corresponds in other dialects.[39]
SwedishCentral Standard[40][41]full[fɵ̞lː]'full'Pronounced with compressed lips, more closely transcribed [ɵ̞ᵝ] or [ɘ̞ᵝ]. Less often described as close-mid [ø̈].[42] 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. Wissing (2016), section "The rounded and unrounded mid-central vowels".
  4. Basbøll (2005), p. 143.
  5. Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 70.
  6. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 129.
  7. Wells (2008), p. XXV.
  8. Wissing (2012), p. 711.
  9. Recasens (1996), pp. 59–60, 104–105.
  10. Recasens (1996), p. 106.
  11. Recasens (1996), p. 98.
  12. Lee & Zee (2003), p. 110.
  13. Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2011), p. 2.
  14. Basbøll (2005), pp. 57, 143.
  15. Gimson (2014), p. 138.
  16. Lass (2002), p. 116.
  17. Lodge (2009), p. 168.
  18. Roach (2004), p. 242.
  19. Watt & Allen (2003), p. 268.
  20. Sailaja (2009), pp. 24–25.
  21. Wells (1982), pp. 380–381.
  22. Stoddart, Upton & Widdowson (1999), pp. 74, 76.
  23. Krech et al. (2009), p. 69.
  24. Dudenredaktion, Kleiner & Knöbl (2015), p. 40.
  25. Bishop (1996), p. 230.
  26. Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 20.
  27. Vanvik (1979), p. 21.
  28. Cox, Driedger & Tucker (2013), p. 224.
  29. Landau et al. (1999), p. 67.
  30. Riad (2014), p. 22.
  31. 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.
  32. Fougeron & Smith (1993), p. 73.
  33. Lodge (2009), p. 84.
  34. "english speech services | Le FOOT vowel". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  35. Khan & Weise (2013), p. 236.
  36. Ó Sé (2000), p. ?.
  37. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 16-17.
  38. Kvifte & Gude-Husken (2005), p. 2.
  39. Cox, Driedger & Tucker (2013), pp. 224–225.
  40. Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  41. Rosenqvist (2007), p. 9.
  42. Andersson (2002), p. 272.


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