Of French, I recently remarked, "E muet is discarding (has discarded?) its
role as schwa, and each instance must vanish or become a 'regular' vowel."
I got the following reply from a Frenchman:
"My impression is that the sound schwa never existed in French, or at least
for my generation (1939). When the _e muet_ is sounded, it is the vowel
<oe>. Untrained French speakers will replace the English schwa by [oe]. If
the schwa sound existed in our language, they would have no problem using it
in English, would they?
"Unless I am mistaken, representing the _e muet_ by the phonetic symbol for
schwa was decided by people like DELATTRE a French professor who taught
phonetics in the US of A (UCLA ?). I remember that he himself confessed he
couldn't find any schwa in his spectrograms, apart from some realisations by
"In other words the _e muet_ is not a phone but a phoneme with two possible
realisations 1) the phone [oe], 2) silence."
Given that the International Phonetic Association (IPA) started in France
(in 1886), this seemed rather odd. What is the history of the French _e
muet_ over the past hundred years or so?
P.S. I apologise if this message appears twice. I'd been sending my
messages from a non-existent e-mail address -