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

  • 1 Philipps-Universität Marburg, Marburg, Germany
  • 2 Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken, Germany


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.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.


Journal + Issues

The journal Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft is published by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft (DGfS). With approximately 1,000 members, the DGfS is the second largest association of linguists in the world. The aim of the journal is to promote linguistic research by publishing high-quality contributions from all fields and trends of modern linguistics.