Phonemic status of /ə/ in Indonesian


Senior Member
Hi all,

I've been reading about Malay/Indonesian phonology, out of curiosity. In the Wikipedia article they say there are six vowels (phonemes?) but the role of schwa isn't really explained which is sad because it's not reflected in the spelling.

Later on they say:
Malay has light stress that falls on either the final or penultimate syllable, depending on regional variations as well as the presence of the schwa (/ə/) in a word. It is generally the penultimate syllable that is stressed, unless its vowel is a schwa /ə/. If the penult has a schwa, then stress moves to the ante-penultimate syllable if there is one, even if that syllable has a schwa as well; if the word is disyllabic, the stress is final.

Still, does anybody have a minimal pair between /e/ and /ə/ in Malay/Indonesian? It doesn't have to be a perfect minimal pair, the same phonological context is enough.

Thank you!
  • I actually looked for a lot of words in Wiktionary just to find the same criterion: stressed e is /e/ (or /ɛ/), unstressed e is /ə/, just like in this word.

    Is the distribution of /e/ and /ə/ fully predictable?
    I find this frustrating, that the orthography doesn't actually use <é> for the phonemically different vowel /e/. But I must admit, when I look at an unmarked word, I can usually tell which vowel it has. I haven't worked out the principles for this, but it does seem to be quite close to predictable. (I suspect it relates to stops and continuants.)