This paper studies some factors governing the presence or absence of word-final schwa in German.
To obtain data as homogeneous as possible we focus on three adverbs outside morphological paradigms, namely,
heut(e) ‘today’, gern(e) ‘willingly’, and bald(e) ‘soon’, in one particular text
type, the letters written by one and the same person, the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Apart from
lexical differences between the items studied and change over time, various phonological factors are shown to be
important, most prominently the accent pattern of the following word (schwa tends to be present if the first syllable of the
following word is accentuated), foot structure, and the initial segment of the following word. Statistical analyses, both for
the individual factors and their (potential) interactions, reveal significant patterns at work behind the variation. For
gern(e) the most important factors are purely phonological while for heut(e) the type
of the following boundary and the position in the sentence is crucial.