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Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft

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Volume 37, Issue 1


Variation and its determinants: A corpus-based study of German schwa in the letters of Goethe

Jürg Fleischer
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  • Philipps-Universität Marburg, Institut für Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft Marburg, Germany
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/ Michael Cysouw / Augustin Speyer / Richard Wiese
Published Online: 2018-05-26 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/zfs-2018-0002


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.

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Keywords: German schwa; prosodic structure; sound change; logistic regression; Goethe

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Published Online: 2018-05-26

Published in Print: 2018-06-26

Citation Information: Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft, Volume 37, Issue 1, Pages 55–81, ISSN (Online) 1613-3706, ISSN (Print) 0721-9067, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/zfs-2018-0002.

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©2018 Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/Boston. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License. BY 4.0

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