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Vowel Reduction

Let's talk about vowel reduction in stress-timed languages:

If you are a native speaker of a syllable-timed language, you may struggle with vowel reduction, but I hope you find this post helpful, especially if you are learning Catalan or Portuguese!

In syllable-timed languages, such as Spanish, the duration of all syllables (stressed or unstressed) is the same.

That is not the case in stress-timed languages, where unstressed syllables between stressed syllables tend to be compressed, which results in vowel reduction.

In English, for instance, unstressed syllables are generally pronounced with a centralized vowel sound (e.g., /ə/, known as "schwa") or other vowel sounds that are considered "reduced" or "shorter" (e.g., /ɪ/, known as "close central unrounded vowel").

What is often tricky about those sounds is that they do not correspond in spelling with any specific letter. At times, only the consonants of unstressed syllables are pronounced (e.g., Wednesday, which is pronounced /wɛnzdeɪ/).

Unlike English, other stressed-time languages like (Central) Catalan and (European) Portuguese follow more predictable, similar patterns, which you can see in the picture below:

Vowel Reduction (from stressed to unstressed syllables) in Central Catalan and European Portuguese

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