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|Mid central vowel|
|IPA vowel chart|
|Paired vowels are: unrounded • rounded|
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IPA help • IPA key • chart • chart with audio •
|Mid central rounded 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.
While the Handbook of the International Phonetic Association does not define the roundedness of [ə], 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."
Some languages, such as Danish and Luxembourgish, 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 [ə], but its word-final rounded allophone is close-mid near-front [ø̠].
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.
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