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To me it sounds like many words are pronounced with a vowel at the end, contrary to the transcription. Let's take, as an example, the word siècle; listen to its pronunciation at Collins Dictionary. The phonetic transcript is [sjɛkl], but to me it sounds like [sjɛkla], with a vowel at the end. Can you clarify what is going on here?

  • Pronouncing an otherwise "mute e" is common in southern France but not elsewhere. – jlliagre Nov 1 '14 at 7:48
  • Related answer: french.stackexchange.com/a/11979/79 – Stéphane Gimenez Nov 1 '14 at 9:17
  • It definitely isn't [a] you hear at the end of siècle. The nearest transcription would be [ə] (schwa) for that sound, but it is even less sounded, nearly silent, and is in fact the result of the pronunciation of the consonant cluster [kl] and not of a separate letter/sound. I think you do not have that sound in Russian if I understand correctly what I've just read in the Wikipedia article on IPA about the Ozhegov's dictionary and the transcription of foreign words in Russian. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Nov 1 '14 at 11:27
  • @Laure: What confuses me is not that we don't have this vowel in Russian. I got used to that if there is a vowel in the pronunciation of any English word, it is always in the transcript. But in French it is not true. – Vagabond Nov 2 '14 at 1:11
  • There are silent vowels at the end of words in English as well, and silent "es" at the end of words like "blue" or "brigde" or "juice"... I suppose you could compare the fact that you think you hear an [ə] sound at the end of siècle for the same reason that you might think you hear one at the end of /dʒuːs/: in fact that sound is induced by the pronunciation of the preceding consonant sound, [s] in "juice" and [l] in "siècle". – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Nov 2 '14 at 8:33
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There's no way siècle can be pronounced [sjɛkla], it definitely is not an [a] sound at the end of siècle but a schwa ([ə]). The recording you link to is not very good, machine produced with too much stress on the second syllable, hence your confusion maybe. Listen to the word on shtooka* and I hope you can hear the difference, the difference is striking to those who can speak French.

This being said there's no need to represent the schwa in the IPA transcript of siècle (and for most words ending with the letters "le") because pronouncing the sound [l] automatically induces a schwa, there's no way it can be pronounced otherwise. So most IPA transcripts of siècle are [sjɛkl], although some choose to represent it [sjɛklə], as here for example, in my Robert Collins English-French dictionary it is represented like this: [sjɛkl(ə)].

*Recordings on Shtooka are made by real natives and not machine produced. The are made by volunteers and are free to use by all.

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    What's the problem with pronouncing a L without a schwa ? Ciel, cruel, etc… Anything which ends in l without a final e – Stéphane Gimenez Nov 3 '14 at 11:29
  • @StéphaneGimenez I'm not sure I understand your comment, it might be my answer that's lacking. I meant to say that when you pronounce any word ending with the letter L you do have a slight schwa sound at the end, there's no way you can avoid it, as a result of the positioning of the vocal apparatus. It's the same with lots of other consonants. Just try and say /ɛm/.. no need to represent the final e, is there? And we produce it also when we say ciel, but there the word is not spelt with an e and the end. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Nov 3 '14 at 11:51
  • Siècle des lumières /sjɛklə.de/, Ciel de nuages /sjɛl.də/. In the latter there is definitely no schwa after the l (Except maybe in Marseille). Your statement “pronouncing the sound [l] automatically induces a schwa” is plain wrong. – Stéphane Gimenez Nov 3 '14 at 12:27
  • If you mean “the sounds [kl] induce a schwa” it's not true either. I'm perferctly able to pronounce this word alone with parisian accent as [sjɛkl]. If the next word begins with a consonant then yes a schwa is automatically inserted by most French speakers (while others may drop the l instead). – Stéphane Gimenez Nov 3 '14 at 12:34
  • @StéphaneGimenez Just the same with all phrases with siècle in compound [ɡrɑ̃ sjɛklə] and others, (the fact that siècle is first or second doesn't change it). About the pronunciation of [l] and some other consonant sounds isn't jut one single sound and all I can tell you is to listen carefully... – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Nov 3 '14 at 12:42

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