LINGUIST List 9.921

Sat Jun 20 1998

Disc: Schwa in Romance

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Robert Orr, Re: 9.899, Disc: Schwa in Romance
  2. Geoffrey Sampson, Re: 9.899, Disc: Schwa in Romance

Message 1: Re: 9.899, Disc: Schwa in Romance

Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 20:41:22 -0400
From: Robert Orr <>
Subject: Re: 9.899, Disc: Schwa in Romance

>(a) I am interested in knowing about languages where
>schwa [i.e., a (mid) central vowel] appears
>more or less systematically in stressed position.


>(b) A second question deals with the origin of stressed schwa
>vis-a-vis the origin of unstressed schwa. In order to account for
>the presence of stressed schwa in Old Catalan and Old Provencal, some
>scholars have argued that it may have originated through assimilation
>to unstressed schwa. This argument is consistent with the
>observation that many languages allow schwa to appear in unstressed
>position but do not so in a stressed syllable (which is in accordance
>with unstressed vowels undergoing vowel reduction quite naturally).

Modern Bulgarian has both stressed and unstressed schwa from at least
two sources:

1) The Common Slavic back nasal (rounded, with a possible tendency to

2) The Common Slavic back jer (originally a short high back unrounded
vowel, which could also bear stress, similar to Tamil forms such as
aatu, etc. (please excuse the lack of diacritics) in strong position.

Both can bear the stress.

>What about Bulgarian where stressed schwa is also found?.

See above

In Russian certain vowels in absolute final position are more resistant to
reduction than others, although the situation is complex. 
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Message 2: Re: 9.899, Disc: Schwa in Romance

Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 16:52:59 +0100
From: Geoffrey Sampson <>
Subject: Re: 9.899, Disc: Schwa in Romance

Are you interested exclusively in Romance languages? English is a language
with stressed shwa, at least Standard British English, what is called
"Received Pronunciation". The stressed vowel of words like "fur", "shirt",
"colonel", "absurd" is right at the mid-central position and would traditionally
be spelled in the IPA alphabet with the turned-e symbol followed by colon
to indicate length. Judging by other regional varieties of English such
as Standard American English (and by the logic of etymology), it would
seem that what happened was that r-coloration caused originally distinctive
vowels to merge in the middle of the vowel diagram, then when post-vocalic
/r/ was lost in Received Pronunciation what was left was the shwa sound.
("Colonel" looks like an exception that contains no R even historically, but
this is misleading -- I believe the word was originally "coronel", and
that in American English it is pronounced with r-coloration, identically
to "kernel".) Now that stressed shwa is an established vowel in modern
English, it occasionally is used in words that come into the language with
no R in their history at all, for instance in the first syllable of the
French car marque "Peugeot"; in standard American English, which has no
stressed shwa vowel, this word is said with the "oo" vowel.

Geoffrey Sampson

School of Cognitive & Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QH, GB

tel. +44 1273 678525
fax +44 1273 671320
Web site
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