Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sound of the week /ə/

/ә/ is maybe "the most important sound in English" because it is a very natural sound for English speakers. It is such an important sound in English that it even has its own name: Schwa (a word of Hebrew origin, pronounced /ʃwa:/).
It is a short, mid-central vowel and to make this sound you just relax your mouth. The defining characteristic of a central vowel is that the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel.
Schwa is actually the most common vowel sound in English. It appears in just about every word with more than two syllables and it is very important for getting the stress and rhythm of English right. In most varieties of English, schwa mostly occurs in unstressed syllables:
'a' in about [əˈbaʊt]
'e' in taken [ˈteɪkən]
'i' in pencil [ˈpensəl]
'o' in eloquent [ˈeləkwənt]
'u' in supply [səˈplaɪ]
'y' in sibyl [ˈsɪbəl]
In many grammar words, such as a, the, of or that,  is the only sound: /ә/, /әv/, /ðә/, /ðәt/.
More examples of Schwa are:
common /'kɒmәn/
standard /'stӕndәd/
butter /'bʌtә/
As well as being a part of many words, Schwa can also be the pronunciation for a whole word itself within connected speech or in what is known as "consonant to vowel linking":
"A cup of tea" is not pronounced /ә kʌp әv ti:/, but rather, more naturally and fluently, /ә 'kʌpә ti:/
Watch the videodownload the poster with examples, download radio programmes on consonant to vowel linking and the pronunciation of Schwa and or take a few quizzes on pronunciation.

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