Observations in specialist literature as well as the perception of lay people suggest that in Swiss German dialects in general and even more so in the dialects of Central Switzerland the unaccented vowel in words such as machä (‘make’), which is here referred to as schwa, is not a completely central vowel corresponding to [ə] but is closer to [æ] or [ɛ].
In order to verify whether these observations are correct, recordings from Central Switzerland and Zurich were analyzed and later also compared to recordings of speakers from Germany speaking Standard German. The results show that speakers of both Swiss German dialects pronounce schwa with a more open quality than the speakers from Germany. The analyses of different factors reveal that for the Swiss but not for the Germans the degree of openness of schwa correlates with a more deliberate articulation. It can, therefore, be assumed that the Swiss German schwa’s target is not a completely central but rather a slightly open vowel. Furthermore, in the dialects of Central Switzerland the vowel is articulated with more spread lips than in Zurich German. Nevertheless, the formant values lead to the conclusion that the Swiss German schwa is still fairly central and does not overlap with any front vowels. It is most precisely represented by the phonetic symbol [ɜ].