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I'm asking this question because as a native speaker of Georgian I've noticed that in my speech the phoneme /ɑ/ sometimes sounds like a Schwa [ə], for example in the following word: /t͡ʃɑntʰɑ/

is final /ɑ/ realized as [ə]? or am I mistaking it for another vowel allophone?

by the way, this is how I normally pronounce /ɑ/

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  • That's quite common. In Lushootseed, for instance, with /i u ə a/ vowels, a schwa can be phonemic, allophonic to /a/, or epenthetic. I believe unstressed /a/ is schwa in Russian, too -- at least I hear it in a lot of songs.
    – jlawler
    Jun 28 at 23:03

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Any vowel could reduce to schwa. Whether or not schwa is a separate phoneme (Berber) or is purely-derived (Russian) depends on the details of the language. The standard claim for Georgian is that there is no schwa phoneme, hence any surface schwa would be an allophone of something else. Shosted & Chikovani do not posit even a phonetic schwa.

In your recording, there is one phonetic vowel, [tʃɑntʰ]. The schwa-like resonance is an artifact from the release noise, with the supraglottal vocal tract being in the neutral position (which is how you produce schwa). This is like the difference between the phoneme [φ] and blowing out a candle (from Sapir). If you have a good reason to say that there is an underlying vowel in that word, perhaps you have evidence for a final vowel deletion rule in the language. Perhaps the rule of deletion is optional.

You should also look at a wider variety of examples where there is an apparent schwa, for example does it exist after sonorants, ejectives, voiced stops, fricatives? If the distribution is highly restricted and there is not an actually-voiced vowels, the simplest explanation is that the percept of schwa is an auditory artifact. You can't just decide this kind of question based on one or two words.

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  • regarding your question, I often hear a schwa-like element before intercontinental sonorants and in nonsense words like /bɡɑ/ sounding like [b̥əɡɑ] in the words like /ɡtʰxɔv/ 1st person singular "please" and /vpʰɾtskʰvni/ both of which to my ears sound like [ɡətʰχɔv] and [vpʰət͡skʰəvni] respectively but however they might simply be an artifacts from the release noise as you said. Jun 29 at 11:58

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