Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-l48q4 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-29T10:38:01.371Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

On the deletion of word-final schwa in Southern French

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 September 2019

Julien Eychenne*
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies


Although a growing body of literature in formal phonology has espoused the view that phonological knowledge is gradient and probabilistic, this perspective remains somewhat controversial. This paper provides further empirical support for this strand of work: it offers an analysis of the gradient deletion of word-final schwa in Southern French, using a corpus containing 7787 data points obtained from 45 subjects spread over three dialectal areas (the Basque Country, Languedoc and Provence). In addition to confirming or nuancing previous findings about the role of several phonological and non-phonological variables, the study demonstrates the influence of lexical frequency, grammatical category, sonority and the feature specification of the consonant before schwa.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


I would like to thank Jacques Durand, Bernard Laks, Chantal Lyche, an associate editor at Phonology and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful and constructive feedback on previous versions of this paper.


Anderson, Stephen R. (1982). The analysis of French shwa: or, how to get something for nothing. Lg 58. 534573.Google Scholar
Armstrong, Nigel & Pooley, Tim (2010). Social and linguistic change in European French. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
Armstrong, Nigel & Unsworth, Sharon (1999). Sociolinguistic variation in southern French schwa. Linguistics 37. 127156.Google Scholar
Bartoń, Kamil (2018). MuMIn: multi-model inference. Scholar
Bayles, Andrew, Kaplan, Aaron & Kaplan, Abby (2016). Inter- and intra-speaker variation in French schwa. Glossa 1(1):19. Scholar
Beckman, Jill N. (1997). Positional faithfulness, positional neutralisation and Shona vowel harmony. Phonology 14. 146.Google Scholar
Biers, Kelly (2017). Vowel epithesis variation in French. Cahiers AFLS 21:1. 68101.Google Scholar
Brooks, Mollie E., Kristensen, Kasper, van Benthem, Koen J., Magnusson, Arni, Berg, Casper W., Nielsen, Anders, Skaug, Hans J., Mächler, Martin & Bolker, Benjamin M. (2017). glmmTMB balances speed and flexibility among packages for zero-inflated generalized linear mixed modeling. The R Journal 9:2. 378400.Google Scholar
Bürki, Audrey, Ernestus, Mirjam & Frauenfelder, Ulrich Hans (2010). Is there only one ‘fenêtre’ in the production lexicon? On-line evidence on the nature of phonological representations of pronunciation variants for French schwa words. Journal of Memory and Language 62. 421437.Google Scholar
Bürki, Audrey, Ernestus, Mirjam, Gendrot, Cédric, Fougeron, Cécile & Frauenfelder, Ulrich Hans (2011). What affects the presence versus absence of schwa and its duration: a corpus analysis of French connected speech. JASA 130. 39803991.Google Scholar
Bürki, Audrey, Fougeron, Cécile, Gendrot, Cedric & Frauenfelder, Ulrich Hans (2011). Phonetic reduction versus phonological deletion of French schwa: some methodological issues. JPh 39. 279288.Google Scholar
Bybee, Joan (2001). Phonology and language use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Bybee, Joan (2015). Articulatory processing and frequency of use in sound change. In Honeybone, Patrick & Salmons, Joseph C. (eds.) The Oxford handbook of historical phonology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 467484.Google Scholar
Carignan, Christopher (2017). Covariation of nasalization, tongue height, and breathiness in the realization of F1 of Southern French nasal vowels. JPh 63. 87105.Google Scholar
Chambers, Jack K. & Trudgill, Peter (1980). Dialectology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Chomsky, Noam (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Coquillon, Annelise & Turcsan, Gabor (2012). An overview of the phonological and phonetic properties of Southern French: data from two Marseille surveys. In Gess et al. (2012). 105–127.Google Scholar
Côté, Marie-Hélène (2000). Consonant cluster phonotactics: a perceptual approach. PhD dissertation, MIT.Google Scholar
Côté, Marie-Hélène (2007). Rhythmic constraints on the distribution of schwa in French. In Camacho, José, Flores-Ferrán, Nydia, Sánchez, Liliana, Déprez, Viviana & Cabrera, María José (eds.) Romance linguistics 2006: selected papers from the 36th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins. 8195.Google Scholar
Courdès-Murphy, Léa (2018). Nivellement et sociophonologie de deux grands centres urbains: le système vocalique de Toulouse et de Marseille. PhD dissertation, Université Jean Jaurès, Toulouse.Google Scholar
Courdès-Murphy, Léa & Eychenne, Julien (to appear). Dynamiques à l’œuvre dans le nivellement des voyelles nasales à Marseille. Journal of French Language Studies.Google Scholar
Dauses, August (1973). Études sur l'e instable dans le français familier. Tübingen: Niemeyer.Google Scholar
Delattre, Pierre (1966). Studies in French and comparative phonetics. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
Dell, François (1977). Paramètres syntaxiques et phonologiques qui favorisent l’épenthèse de schwa en français moderne. In Rohrer, Christian (ed.) Actes du colloque franco-allemand de linguistique théorique. Tübingen: Niemeyer. 141153.Google Scholar
Dell, François (1985). Les règles et les sons: introduction à la phonologie générative. 2nd edn. Paris: Hermann.Google Scholar
Detey, Sylvain, Durand, Jacques, Laks, Bernard & Lyche, Chantal (eds.) (2016). Varieties of spoken French. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Durand, Jacques (1976). Generative phonology, dependency phonology and southern French. Lingua e Stile 11. 323.Google Scholar
Durand, Jacques (1988). Les phénomènes de nasalité en français du Midi: phonologie de dépendance et sous-spécification. Recherches Linguistiques de Vincennes 17. 2954.Google Scholar
Durand, Jacques (1995). Alternances vocaliques en français du midi et phonologie du gouvernement. Lingua 95. 2750.Google Scholar
Durand, Jacques & Eychenne, Julien (2004). Le schwa en français: pourquoi des corpus? Corpus 3. 311356.Google Scholar
Durand, Jacques & Laks, Bernard (2000). Relire les phonologues du français: Maurice Grammont et la loi des trois consonnes. Langue française 126. 2938.Google Scholar
Durand, Jacques, Laks, Bernard & Lyche, Chantal (2002). La Phonologie du français contemporain: usages, variétés et structure. In Pusch, Claus D. & Raible, Wolfgang (eds.) Romanistische Korpuslinguistik/Romance corpus linguistics: Korpora und gesprochene Sprache/corpora and spoken language. Tübingen: Narr. 93106.Google Scholar
Durand, Jacques, Laks, Bernard & Lyche, Chantal (eds.) (2009). Phonologie, variation et accents du français. Paris: Hermès.Google Scholar
Durand, Jacques, Slater, Catherine & Wise, Hilary (1987). Observations on schwa in Southern French. Linguistics 25. 9831004.Google Scholar
Durand, Jacques & Tarrier, Jean-Michel (2016). Variation in a rural village in southern France: Douzens. In Detey et al. (2016). 417–429.Google Scholar
Eibergen, Joëlle van & Belrhali, Rabia (1994). Étude statistique du /ə/. In Lyche, Chantal (ed.) French generative phonology: retrospective and perspectives. Salford: Association for French Language Studies. 277287.Google Scholar
Ernestus, Mirjam (2014). Acoustic reduction and the roles of abstractions and exemplars in speech processing. Lingua 142. 2741.Google Scholar
Eychenne, Julien (2006). Aspects de la phonologie du schwa dans le français contemporain: optimalité, visibilité prosodique, gradience. PhD dissertation, Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail.Google Scholar
Eychenne, Julien (2009a). La prononciation du français au Pays basque. In Durand et al. (2009). 231–258.Google Scholar
Eychenne, Julien (2009b). Une variété de français conservatrice en Languedoc. In Durand et al. (2009). 259–284.Google Scholar
Eychenne, Julien (2014). Schwa and the loi de position in Southern French. Journal of French Language Studies 24. 223253.Google Scholar
Eychenne, Julien & Paternostro, Roberto (2016). Analyzing transcribed speech with Dolmen. In Detey et al. (2016). D35–D52. Scholar
Fagyal, Zsuzsanna (2000). Le retour du e final en français parisien: changement phonétique conditionné par la prosodie. In Englebert, Annick, Pierrard, Michel, Rosier, Laurence & van Raemdonck, Dan (eds.) Actes du XXIIe Congrès International de Linguistique et de Philologie Romanes. Vol. 3: Vivacité et diversité de la variation linguistique. Tübingen: Niemeyer. 151160.Google Scholar
Feldman, Naomi H., Myers, Emily B., White, Katherine S., Griffiths, Thomas L. & Morgan, James L. (2013). Word-level information influences phonetic learning in adults and infants. Cognition 127. 427438.Google Scholar
Fouché, Pierre (1956). Traité de prononciation française. Paris: Klincksieck.Google Scholar
Fouché, Pierre (1969). Phonétique historique du français. Vol. 2: Les voyelles. 2nd edn. Paris: Klincksieck.Google Scholar
Fougeron, Cécile & Jun, Sun-Ah (2006). Realizations of accentual phrase in French intonation. Probus 14. 147172.Google Scholar
Gahl, Susanne (2008). Time and thyme are not homophones: the effect of lemma frequency on word durations in spontaneous speech. Lg 84. 474496.Google Scholar
Gess, Randall, Lyche, Chantal & Meisenburg, Trudel (eds.) (2012). Phonological variation in French: illustrations from three continents. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins.Google Scholar
Gouskova, Maria (2003). Deriving economy: syncope in Optimality Theory. PhD dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.Google Scholar
Grammont, Maurice (1920). Traité pratique de prononciation française. 2nd edn. Paris: Delagrave.Google Scholar
Gries, Stefan Th. (2015). The most underused statistical method in corpus linguistics: multi-level (and mixed-effects) models. Corpora 10. 95125.Google Scholar
Hambye, Philippe & Simon, Anne Catherine (2009). La prononciation du français en Belgique. In Durand et al. (2009). 95–130.Google Scholar
Hansen, Anita Berit (1994). Étude du E caduc: stabilisation en cours et variations lexicales. Journal of French Language Studies 4. 2554.Google Scholar
Hansen, Anita Berit (1997). Le nouveau [ə] prépausal dans le français parlé à Paris. In Perrot, Jean (ed.) Polyphonie pour Iván Fónagy. Paris: L'Harmattan. 173198.Google Scholar
Hartig, Florian (2019). DHARMa: residual diagnostics for hierarchical (multi-level/mixed) regression models. Version 0.2.4. Scholar
Hayes, Bruce & Wilson, Colin (2008). A maximum entropy model of phonotactics and phonotactic learning. LI 39. 379440.Google Scholar
Kaplan, Aaron (2011). Variation through markedness suppression. Phonology 28. 331370.Google Scholar
Kurisu, Kazutaka (2001). The phonology of morpheme realization. PhD dissertation, University of California, Santa Cruz.Google Scholar
Labov, William (2001). Principles of linguistic change. Vol. 2: Social factors. Malden, Mass. & Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Lacheret-Dujour, Anne, Kahane, Sylvain & Pietrandrea, Paola (eds.) (2019). Rhapsodie: a prosodic and syntactic treebank for spoken French. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins.Google Scholar
Laks, Bernard, Calderone, Basilio & Celata, Chiara (2018). French liaison in the light of corpus phonology: from lexical information to patterns of usage variation. In Brentari, Diane & Lee, Jackson L. (eds.) Shaping phonology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 278308.Google Scholar
Lenth, Russell V. (2016). Least-squares means: the R package lsmeans. Journal of Statistical Software 69:1. Scholar
Léon, Pierre (1966). Apparition, maintien et chute du ‘e’ caduc. La linguistique 2. 111122.Google Scholar
Lonnemann, Birgit & Meisenburg, Trudel (2009). Une variété française imprégnée d'occitan (Lacaune/Tarn). In Durand et al. (2009). 285–306.Google Scholar
Lucci, Vincent (1983). Étude phonétique du français contemporain à travers la variation situationnelle. Grenoble: Université des Langues et Lettres de Grenoble.Google Scholar
Lyche, Chantal (2016). Approaching variation in PFC: the schwa level. In Detey et al. (2016). 352–362.Google Scholar
McCarthy, John J. (2002). A thematic guide to Optimality Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Malécot, André (1976). The effect of linguistic and paralinguistic variables on the elision of the French mute-e. Phonetica 33. 93112.Google Scholar
Morin, Yves-Charles (1978). The status of mute ‘e’. Studies in French Linguistics 1:2. 79139.Google Scholar
Morin, Yves-Charles (1983). Quelques observations sur la chute du e muet dans le français régional de Saint-Etienne. La linguistique 19. 7193.Google Scholar
Morin, Yves-Charles (1987). French data and phonological theory. Linguistics 25. 815843.Google Scholar
Munson, Benjamin & Solomon, Nancy Pearl (2004). The effect of phonological neighborhood density on vowel articulation. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research 47. 10481058.Google Scholar
Nakagawa, Shinichi & Schielzeth, Holger (2013). A general and simple method for obtaining R2 from generalized linear mixed-effects models. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 4. 133142.Google Scholar
New, Boris, Pallier, Christophe, Ferrand, Ludovic & Matos, Rafael (2001). Une base de données lexicales du français contemporain sur internet: LEXIQUE. L'année psychologique 101. 447462.Google Scholar
Nguyen, Noël, Wauquier, Sophie & Tuller, Betty (2009). The dynamical approach to speech perception: from fine phonetic detail to abstract phonological categories. In Pellegrino, François, Marsico, Egidio, Chitoran, Ioana & Coupé, Christophe (eds.) Approaches to phonological complexity. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 193217.Google Scholar
Oostendorp, Marc van (2000). Phonological projection: a theory of feature content and prosodic structure. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Pater, Joe (2009). Weighted constraints in generative linguistics. Cognitive Science 33. 9991035.Google Scholar
Pierrehumbert, Janet B. (2001). Exemplar dynamics: word frequency, lenition and contrast. In Bybee, Joan & Hopper, Paul (eds.) Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins. 137157.Google Scholar
Pierrehumbert, Janet B. (2002). Word-specific phonetics. In Gussenhoven, Carlos & Warner, Natasha (eds.) Laboratory Phonology 7. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 101139.Google Scholar
Plag, Ingo, Homann, Julia & Kunter, Gero (2017). Homophony and morphology: the acoustics of word-final S in English. JL 53. 181216.Google Scholar
Pooley, Tim (2007). Dialect levelling in Southern France. Nottingham French Studies 46:2. 4063.Google Scholar
Prince, Alan & Smolensky, Paul (2004). Optimality Theory: constraint interaction in generative grammar. Malden, Mass. & Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Pustka, Elissa (2007). Phonologie et variétés en contact: Aveyronnais et Guadeloupéens à Paris. Tübingen: Narr.Google Scholar
Pustka, Elissa (2009). PFC et la phonologie du français en Vendée. In Durand et al. (2009). 307–335.Google Scholar
R Development Core Team (2008). R: a language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Available at Scholar
Racine, Isabelle & Grosjean, François (2002). La production du E caduc facultatif est-elle prévisible? Un début de réponse. Journal of French Language Studies 12. 307326.Google Scholar
Rice, Curt (2007). Gaps and repairs at the phonology–morphology interface. JL 43. 197221.Google Scholar
Russell Webb, Eric (2009). Minimalism and French /R/: phonological representations in phonetically based phonology. Journal of French Language Studies 19. 87115.Google Scholar
Scarborough, Rebecca A. (2004). Coarticulation and the structure of the lexicon. PhD thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
Scheer, Tobias (2011). Portrait of a phonological cripple: what schwa can(not) do to preceding vowels in French and elsewhere. Paper presented at the International Workshop on Metrics, Phonology and Acquisition, Paris.Google Scholar
Selkirk, Elisabeth (1978). The French foot: on the status of ‘mute’ e. Studies in French Linguistics 1:2. 141150.Google Scholar
Storme, Benjamin (2017). The loi de position and the acoustics of French mid vowels. Glossa 2(1):64. Scholar
Tranel, Bernard (1981). Concreteness in generative phonology: evidence from French. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Tranel, Bernard (1999). Optional schwa deletion: on syllable economy in French. In Authier, J.-Marc, Bullock, Barbara E. & Reed, Lisa A. (eds.) Formal perspectives on Romance linguistics: selected papers from the 28th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 271288.Google Scholar
Wedel, Andrew, Kaplan, Abby & Jackson, Scott (2013). High functional load inhibits phonological contrast loss: a corpus study. Cognition 128. 179186.Google Scholar
Zipf, George Kingsley (1949). Human behavior and the principle of least effort: an introduction to human ecology. Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Eychenne supplementary material

Eychenne supplementary material

Download Eychenne supplementary material(File)
File 1 MB