--- In phoNet@yahoogroups.com, "Richard Wordingham"
<richard.wordingham@n...> wrote:
> 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 Canadians.
> "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?
> Richard.

I have no argument at all about this analysis, but I must say I was
surprised when I first heard of this online. None of the dictionaries
or textbooks I had seen had ever indicated that _e muet_ was
pronounced like {oe}. Could it be that the schwa has been carried
over from a long-obsolete pronunciation?