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
ə
IPA Number322
Encoding
Entity (decimal)ə
Unicode (hex)U+0259
X-SAMPA@
Braille
Audio sample
noicon

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]

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]