Ok, look at this vowel diagram of English language, you will see /ə/ & /ɜ/ are the central vowel. Both has the middle of the tongue raising in the middle of the mouth, except that /ə/ has to raise a bit higher than /ɜ/.

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Now if we have /r/ right after these vowel, then the tip and the blade of the tongue must be curved up, but not touching the roof of the mouth.

So, for the /ɚ/ (farmer /ˈfɑːr.mɚ/) & /ɝ/ (bird /bɝːd/), I think we have to do like the following, but please correct me if I am wrong:

enter image description here

enter image description here

So, basically, /ɚ/ & /ɝ/ have the same position of articulation, except that the central of the tongue of the /ɚ/ is just a little bit higher than /ɝ/ as showed in the 2 above pictures.

Note that: since we got /r/, so the tip and the blade of the tongue must be curved up.

So, do I get anything wrong here?

  • I'm not as savvy by any stretch as you are about phonation, but my mouthparts are exactly the same for the sound. The only difference I can tell is that there is anticipation of the "d" sound in "bird". Try burr. No difference that I can tell. Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 4:32

2 Answers 2


These two vowel sounds are pretty similar, the difference between them is that the /ə/ is used in weak (unstressed) syllables & the /ɜ/ is used in the stressed ones. Yes, these two sounds are the central ones and the position of the speech organs seem to be correct in your description. Speech therapists also recommend raising the back of the tongue a little trying to make it round (as a tight ball) while curling the tip of the tongue back. The middle of the tongue can sink down (just a little bit), you may sometimes feel that sides of the tongue slightly touching your upper front teeth. When making both of these sounds, slightly round your lips, mind that you want to relax them for the /ə/ though. The difference between these two sounds is that the /ə/ is weaker, that is, more relaxed. It could be felt when you voice this sound, make it weaker by relaxing your tongue and lips a little bit. Hope it helps :).


The pronunciation is the same, except that the "er" is held longer in bird to aid the pronunciation of the "d;" otherwise, it sounds like a "t" making the name "Bert."

Please note that this is the North American pronunciation and that British or Australian pronunciation might be different...I'd be willing to bet they are.

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