|close||i • y||ɨ • ʉ||ɯ • u|
|near-close||ɪ • ʏ||ʊ|
|close-mid||e • ø||ɘ • ɵ||ɤ • o|
|open-mid||ɛ • œ||ɜ • ɞ||ʌ • ɔ|
|open||a • ɶ||ɑ • ɒ|
|Table of vowels|
|List of vowels|
|Edit this box|
|IPA - Unicode||ə|
|IPA - image||File:Xsampa-at.png|
In linguistics and phonology, the schwa is the vowel sound in many lightly pronounced unaccented syllables in English words of more than one syllable. It is most easily described as sounding like the British English "er" or the American English "uh". It is written as the symbol ə (a rotated e). It is the most common vowel sound in the English language. Its sound depends on the adjacent consonants and it is a very short neutral vowel sound.
It is a characteristic of English (and the English accent in other languages) that unaccented neutral vowel sounds, especially before 'r' or 'l', tend to become a schwa. A schwa sound can therefore be represented in English by any vowel. In most dialects, for example, the schwa sound is found in the following words:
- The a in about is a schwa
- The e in synthesis is a schwa
- In American and Australian English, the i in decimal is a schwa (not in British English)
- The o in harmony is a schwa
- The u in medium is a schwa
- The y in syringe is a schwa
Note that in most dialects of American English, the e in houses is not a schwa but rather the close central unrounded vowel, /
i/. Also, the e in farmer is not a schwa sound, but rather the "er" designate a "rhotic schwa", which is pronounced like schwa, except the tongue is pulled back in the mouth and "bunched up". Finally, there is no schwa sound in words such as bottle but rather a the l takes the place of a vowel in the form of syllabic l.
Authorities vary somewhat in the range of what is considered a schwa sound, but the above examples are generally accepted. This vowel is a consequence of the rhythm of the English language, that makes a great contrast between stressed syllables and unstressed syllables.
For non-English speakers, it may be useful to know that the sound is very similar to a short French unaccented e. It is a central, half-open rounded vowel, weakened /œ/, exactly in the middle of the International phonetic alphabet vowel chart.
Quite a few languages have a schwa sound. It is almost always unstressed, though Bulgarian and Afrikaans are two languages that allow stressed schwas. New Zealand English contrasts stressed and unstressed schwas; stressed schwas appear in place of the high front lax vowel in the word bit. The same usually applies to South African English.
In the Dutch language, the vowel of the suffix -lijk, as in waarschijnlijk (probably) is pronounced as a schwa.
Some browser fonts will show the schwa symbol here: ə. Others may show either a box, a question mark, or capital Y.
The word "schwa" (shəwa, later shəva) originally referred to one of the vowel points used with the Hebrew alphabet, which looks like a vertical pair of dots under a letter. This sign has two uses, one to indicate the schwa vowel-sound and one to indicate the complete absence of a vowel. In practice these two uses do not conflict.
The schwa symbol also is used in some Cyrillic alphabets including: Kazakh, Bashkir, and Udmurt. It was also used in Tatar, Azeri, and Turkmenian, before those languages switched to the Latin alphabet.
The term "schwa" is also used for vowels of uncertain quantity (rather than neutral sound) in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language. It was observed that, while for the most part "a" in Sanskrit corresponds to "a" in Latin and Ancient Greek, there are instances where Sanskrit has "i" while Latin and Greek have "a", such as pitar (Sanskrit) vs pater (Latin and Ancient Greek).
Discrepancies between the endings of Greek verbs such as didomi, tithemi and histami, and the equivalent Sanskrit verbs, led to three schwas being postulated for Proto-Indo-European. While most scholars of Proto-Indo-European would accept these three, some scholars postulate yet more schwas to explain further problems in the Proto-Indo-European vowel system.
Proto-Indo-European schwa sounds are also called "laryngeals" owing to their possible sound.