Someone said, one is k.k sound mark, and another is international sound mark. Then, I find this

screenshot of 'fervor'

They are both in one phonetic system. Why?


[ɜː] and [ə] are phonetic symbols representing 2 absolutely different sounds.

[ə] is called schwa, which is a very short neutral vowel sound. We hear it at the end of the word "mother", "father", "teacher" etc. (if the accent of the speaker is not American because Americans add "r"): ['mʌðə], ['fɑːðə], ['tiːʧə].

[ɜː] can be heard in "bird" [bɜːd], "hurt" [hɜːt], "heard" [hɜːd].

See the phonetic chart below:

enter image description here


Both /ɜ/ and /ə/ are IPA symbols. The key difference between /ɜː/ and /ə/ (schwa) is that /ɜː/ chiefly occurs in stressed syllables while /ə/ occurs in unstressed syllables at least in British English (I can't speak for American English). There's also a length difference1 between /ɜː/ and /ə/. [ː] signifies vowel length. In RP, /ɜː/ occurs in the word bird, while /ə/ in the first syllable of about

If you look at the vowel chart, you will see that both /ɜ/ and /ə/ are in the 'central' position:

Vowel chart

It means they are both central vowels. Central vowel is one in which the central part of the tongue body is raised towards the roof of the mouth.

/ə/ is located at the very centre of the vowel chart; central and mid. A mid vowel is one in which the tongue is positioned midway between an open vowel (like the vowel in cat) and a close vowel (the vowel in seat). So the mouth is neither too open, nor too close while articulating /ə/.

/ɜ/ is located a tiny bit lower than /ə/, meaning the mouth is a bit more open while articulating /ɜ/, so we can say /ɜ/ is 'open-mid' vowel. An open-mid vowel is one in which the tongue is positioned one third of the way from an open vowel to a close vowel. But this distinction is incomprehensibly minuscule.

The first syllable of 'fervour' is stressed so it has /ɜː/, while the second syllable is unstressed and has /ə/. [Also note that it's the pronunciation of 'fervour' in non-rhotic accents (RP), in rhotic accents, the first syllable would have r-coloured /ɜː/ i.e. /ɝː/]

(I've also explained the difference between /ɪ/ and /ə/ in this answer and between /ʌ/ and /ə/ in this one.)

1. The difference is not only length, but that of 'quality'. As can be observed in /iː/ and /ɪ/. /iː/ is the vowel in 'beat' while /ɪ/ in 'bit', so the vowels in those words are qualitatively distinct from each other.

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