Schwa

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In linguistics, specifically phonetics and phonology, schwa (sometimes spelled shwa)[1][2] can mean the following:

  • An unstressed and toneless neutral vowel sound in some languages, often but not necessarily a mid-central vowel. Such vowels are often transcribed with the symbol <ə>, regardless of their actual phonetic value.
  • The mid-central vowel sound (rounded or unrounded) in the middle of the vowel chart, stressed or unstressed. In IPA phonetic transcription, it is written as [ə]. In this case the term mid-central vowel may be used instead of schwa to avoid ambiguity.

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The term

The word schwa is from the Hebrew word shva (שְׁוָא shewa’, pronounced [ʃəˈwa], modern shva [ʃva]), which designates the Hebrew niqqud vowel sign shva "ְ" that in modern Hebrew indicates either the phoneme /e/ or the complete absence of a vowel. Also the Hebrew shva is sometimes represented by the upside-down e symbol for Schwa, a misleading transliteration, since the Schwa vowel is not representative of modern Hebrew pronunciation of shva and is not characteristic of earlier pronunciations either (see Tiberian vocalization → Mobile Shwa). The spelling "schwa" is German in origin.

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