schwa in Czech

Discussion in 'Grammar & Pronunciation' started by Qcumber, Feb 25, 2005.

  1. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Someone once told me there is no schwa in Czech.
    Yet I have just listened to one of the programs of Radio-Prague (French), and the journalist explains that to pronounce the name of the city of Brno; you must insert _un e muet_ (let's call it a schwa in English) between the /r/ and the /n/. As the toponym was repeated by a native speaker of Czech, I did hear this unwritten vowel. :)
  2. Jana

    Jana Well-Known Member

    Sure there is a schwa in Czech - it is called "ráz" (neznělá hlasivková exploziva = an unvoiced explosive of vocal chords).
    Its occurrence is very frequent and its importance is even phonemic; e.g. "byl sokem" x "byl s okem", where the only phonetic difference is the schwa between "s" and "okem".
  3. Wicker808

    Wicker808 Well-Known Member

    I think there's some confusion of linguistic terminology here. The "ráz" that Jana refers to is a glottal stop. It is produced by a momentary contraction in the throat. This is used most significantly to separate vowel sounds in words such a "pootevřit" which has four syllables, where the glottal stop occurs between the two "o"s.

    Schwa is not a plosive, it is a normal vowel sound, produced by vibrating the vocal cords. It is the sound used in English words such in the first syllable of "about." Schwa is, according to its Wikipedia entry, the most common vowel sound in English.

    I would guess that "un e muet" means schwa, not glottal stop, but if there were a schwa in "Brno" it would be pronounced the way an American speaker would pronounce the word "Burno.
  4. czechchris

    czechchris Well-Known Member

    In my first forays into learning Czech, I understood that the 'r' in Brno was rolled so as to effectively be used as a vowel. I find that this removes any need for vowel insertions. (Same with skrz krk......)

    Actually the sound of an inserted vowel (Burno... or worse Bruno!) really grates on my ear!

    I must confess that I have not paid that much attention to native speakers pronouncing the word, but my efforts have been accepted without exception, and on occasion, before the grammar has kicked in too much!, I have even been taken as being Czech, or at least of Czech parentage - neither of which is the case. Born and bred Yorkshireman!!
  5. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Yes, let's not confuse the glottal stop, that is a consonant, and the schwa, that is a vowel.

    The journalist who wrote the article I was referring to, and read it, is a fluent French-Czech bilingual. Besides quotations were read by a female native speaker, so, listening to them, it is easy to detect the presence of the schwa.

    I have also listened to various recorded sentences, and the schwa is present in many words where spelling only shows consonant clusters involving /r/ and /l/ and perhaps some other consonants. I find it curious that some listeners should deny the existence of the schwa in Czech. It's so obvious.

    For the moment I haven't been able to find a rule for the placing of the schwa, but there must be some.

    P.S. The term schwa, pronounced _shva_, is borrowed from Hebrew (where it is _she-'va_] and written in Latin characters according to the rules of German spelling by Yiddish Jews. The term has been borrowed by linguists to refer to the centralized (neutralized) short vowel.

    For English speakers, as said above, this vowel is found in unstressed syllables, particurlaly when the reference vowel is one of the three "A's" of English, e.g. gan in began Vs organ, sum in summer and gypsum, gard in guard Vs laggard.

    Thanks a lot for the answers.
  6. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    It occurs to me that there is at least one case where schwa is not represented in English spelling: a certain number of native speakers of English cannot pronounce _film_ properly; they insert a schwa between the /l/ and the /m/, and what they utter sounds a bit like _*fillum_.
  7. Jirka

    Jirka Well-Known Member

    While Jana is perfectly right about schwa usage in Czech, I'd like to point out that most Czechs don't realize they use it. When you say 'vowels', people only think of A, E, I, O, and U in Czech. There even isn't a well-established name for it in Czech. I call it "oslabená samohláska" (reduced vowel), but only for the purposes of speaking about English pronunciation.

    Czech spelling is fairly much phonetic, but schwa is not really recognized in common education. The fact that R and L, respectively, are pronounced with a trailing schwa in some words and referred to as "slabikotvorná souhláska" (syllabic consonant)...

  8. Leah

    Leah Active Member

    Qcumber -

    I don't have a rule regarding schwa in Czech, but in English the schwa insertion rule is:

    insert schwa between a consonant and //r// when a word boundary follows

    (a word boundary can be also word-internal) - in other words:

    0 ----> schwa / C _____r#

    not sure if this was what you were talking about....
  9. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Jirka : "slabikotvorná souhláska" (syllabic consonant)"

    Yes, I have heard of this theory according to which /r/ and /l/ are used like vowels. I believed it until I heard Czech words, and realized that it was a figment of some phonologist's imagination.
  10. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Leah about English: "0 ----> schwa / C _____r#"

    I must confess I can't read such formulas. How do you read it?
  11. Leah

    Leah Active Member

    sorry about that - you read it like:

    0 ----> schwa / C ____r#
    "zero (or nothing) goes to schwa when it follows a consonant and is followed by an r which is followed by a word boundary"

    the arrow represents "goes to"
    the slash represents "when"
    C obviously stands for consonant
    r is obviously the phoneme, but I guess /l/ and /m/ would also be correct in this formula, and
    # represents the word boundary - a lot of the time it indicates the end or beginning of a word, but like I said earlier, a word bounary could be also within a word, such as in this case between a base and a neutral suffix (a suffix that is added to an independent word after adjustments have been made) consider: #enter#, #enter#ing#, & #entr+ance#; -ing is neutral while -ance is not. a few more: anger, angered, angry & cylinder, cylinders, cylindrical

    now that I am looking at this, I am realizing that the phonemes /r/, /l/, and /m/ are all sonorant consonants, and I guess we could rewrite the formula to include these three for a more general one:

    0 ---> schwa / C _____ [ +cons +son]#

    hope this helps; on a side note, in my spread of English class yesterday two guest speakers from Costa Rica and Chile both commented on how difficult the schwa in English was to pin down, and I also have a diffilcult time transcribing the schwa, especially when the syllabic consonants are around, but my collegues and I have determined that in a lot of cases in English the two (syllabic or schwa insertion) could be interchangeable - personally, I call the schwa the "lazy slut" of the vowels because its a mid central vowel that hangs out in the middle of the chart and I stick it in whenever I don't know what else to put in - it usually works!
  12. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Thanks a lot Leah for your explanation.

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