LINGUIST List 9.963

Sun Jun 28 1998

Disc: Schwa in Romance

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Joaquim [** iso-8859-1 charset **] Brand\227ode Carvalho, Disc: Schwa in Romance

Message 1: Disc: Schwa in Romance

Date: Thu, 25 Jun 1998 09:36:59 +0000
From: Joaquim [** iso-8859-1 charset **] Brand\227ode Carvalho <>
Subject: Disc: Schwa in Romance

[Disc: Schwa in Romance (9.899)]

>(d) Another issue concerns the quality of the unstressed vowels
>giving rise to unstressed schwa. In Old Catalan both unstressed /e/
>and /a/ became schwa historically which explains why Modern Catalan
>has a phonological rule reducing mid front and low vowels to schwa
>systematically. My particular concern is whether unstressed /a/ is
>more prone to reduce to schwa than unstressed /e/; in other words, in
>languages/dialects where both /e/ and /a/ reduce to schwa in
>unstressed position, the prediction could be that /a/ will reduce in
>the first place. There is evidence in support of this hypothesis
>both from Old Catalan and from modern Catalan dialects where vowel
>reduction is an ongoing process.

In Portuguese, both /e, E/ and /a/ reduce in unstressed syllables ;
they remain, however, phonemically distinct : cf. pegar with a
mid-high schwa, and pagar with a mid-low central vowel (often noted
with an upside down a in IPA). Now, unstressed /e/ is often deleted in
current speech, while unstressed /a/ is not. Likewise, the evolution
of unstressed vowels from Latin to French seems to confirm this fact,
and thus to support the view that /a/ undergoes reduction *after* all
the other vowels (at least after /e/) : cf. *morte(m) / *mortu /
*morta > Fr mor / mor / mort() (mort "death" / mort "dead" (masc.) /
morte "dead" (fem.)).

>(e) A last observation is that prestressed vowels reduce to schwa
>more easily than postressed vowels. Vowels in absolute word final
>position are quite resistant to the process of interest, i.e., they
>do not become schwa too easily. Again this piece of evidence is taken
>from Old Catalan as well as from Modern Catalan.

Again, this is not confirmed by Portuguese facts : European
Portuguese, as was stated above, has vowel reduction in both
unstressed contexts ; in Brazilian Portuguese, however, vowels reduce
in final unstressed contexts only (though there is no schwa-like vowel
in most varieties of BP).

Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho
1, rue Henri Poincare
75020 Paris
Tel./fax : 01 43 64 34 18
(If calling from outside France,
please replace the prefix '01' with '331'.)

Departement de linguistique
Faculte des Sciences Humaines et Sociales - Sorbonne
Universite Rene Descartes - Paris V
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