The letter e remains a magic letter whether it’s facing up or down. If you say that letter e is dumb, quiet, mute, silent in many English words, especially word endings, you are absolutely right. E is not just a silent vowel even when vowels are sound letters; it’s a force for change. See how e changes kit to kite and make it fly. That’s just a tip of the iceberg. When you turn e upside down, it takes a new name. You are wondering what the name is? E becomes the Schwa, a magic letter in spoken English.
What is the Schwa?
If you leave the answers to these questions, ‘what is the schwa and how does it work’ in the hands of our erudite phoneticians, you will experience another abracadabra. in this post, we will hear the schwa explain itself to us.
Schwa /ə/: I am the faintest vowel sound. As you can see, I am the inverted e. I am capable of making any vowel sound. Surprised? I am a pure English sound, though heard in some languages that you may know, I work differently in English.
Let’s now take a close look at the Schwa.
Schwa/ə/: Don’t bother yourself with my sound /ə/. Equated me with the apostrophe (‘) representing the mark of omission in most words you see me.
The apostrophe usually tells us that a letter has been dropped and the word must be pronounced without the dropped letter. For example: do not is the same as don’t, like govern is pronounced/gʌvǝn/ gov’n; and principal, princip’l.
Schwa /ə/: Did you see me in govern/gʌvǝn/? I pushed r away and turned myself upside down so you don’t recognize me.
Whenever the Schwa drops or pushes a letter away and take its space, don’t be deceived, the space remains open. Move from the consonant before the space to the consonant after the space. When we create a space between v and n, we have vn as in govn.
Schwa /ə/: When I drop a vowel, and replace it, simply ignore me and work with the consonants around me.
So in pronouncing consonant, we drop the second o, and a, and work with the consonants around the dropped vowels or the Schwa. So consonant is pronounced con s’n’nt phonetically represented as /kɒnsənənt/.
Schwa /ə/: I can replace the sound of any vowel (a, e i, o, u) in a faint syllable. As an initial sound I /ə/ I am faint. I am a neutral sound that feels like a faint a or u. (Say me like you are sick and tired).
The a’s in away, ago, above, across are faint. (Say the words like you are sick and tired).
Schwa /ə/: Drop me please when you see me in the middle of a faint syllable and make use of the consonants around me.
Bottom is pronounced bot’m; modern is pronounced mod’n; Susan is pronounced suz’n. Southern is pronounced south’n. The Schwa dropped the vowels in the last syllable of each of the listed words.
Schwa /ə/: Drop me please when I am the final sound in a word and make use of the consonant behind me.
Butter is pronounced bu t’/t-h/. Tender is pronounced ten d’/dh/. When a schwa is the final sound, aspirate the consonant before it, and say it as if it were standing alone. Sugar is pronounced su g’/g-h. Deliver is pronounced d’li v’/vh/. Prosper is pronounced pros p’/p-h/.
Can you answer?
1. How would you describe the Schwa?
2. How does the Schwa work?
3. What would you suggest phoneticians do with the Schwa.