Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation podcast. My Name is Mandy, and this is our 76th podcast, and our 9th video podcast.
Today's video podcast is taken from our Schwa, Part 1 video. That video is available, in its entirety to Pronuncian subscribers. Just log in, go to the Materials tab, and click Video Lessons. Wait, you aren't a Pronucian subscriber yet? Hmmm. Well, just go to "Join Now" and your can choose from 1 to 6 month subscriptions. A 6-month subscription only costs $15 per month, and subscriptions or memberships are the only way to get the full Pronuncian videos.
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This full video about the schwa sound explains schwa in multi-syllables words, single-syllable words, and in prefixes. We're only going to watch the part about multi-syllable words in this podcast.
The reduced vowel sound called schwa is the most common vowel sound in spoken English. Schwa is a quick, relaxed, neutral vowel pronunciation.
Dictionaries represent schwa with an upside-down e. /ə/
Schwa does not have a single pronunciation. Instead, the sound produced for schwa varies between a short u (short u), short i (short i), and a short e (short e). Most commonly, the short u sound is used for schwa in American English pronunciation.
The reduced vowel sound, schwa, occurs in two different circumstances:
- in an unstressed syllable of a multi-syllable word.
- as a reduced vowel sound of a function word
This video covers schwa as a reduced syllable of a multi-syllable word. Schwa: Part II will cover schwa as a reduced syllable in a function word.
In words with more than one syllable, not every syllable is given equal emphasis. Let's look at an example word: emphasize.
Three levels of syllable stress are possible: stressed, secondarily stressed, and unstressed. Every multi-syllable word has a single stressed syllable. That syllable is given the most emphasis in the word. The remainder of the syllables may have a secondary stress or may be unstressed.
The vowel sound in unstressed syllables is usually reduced to schwa. Stressed and secondarily stressed syllables are not reduced.
The purpose of schwa is to allow unstressed syllables to occur more quickly so the main beats of spoken words are easier to place on the stressed syllables.
Because schwa is a function of syllable stress and not of spelling, many multi-syllable words do not seem to be pronounced as they are spelled. However, once learners can recognize stressed syllables it becomes easier to predict when schwa will be used in an adjacent, unstressed syllable, regardless of the spelling.
Let's look at some examples. (The stressed syllable is marked in capital letters, the reduced syllables are underlined. Notice that the stressed syllable is the most emphasized syllable of the word, and that the schwa occurs quickly, and sounds most similar to the short u sound (short u).
a spelling: a-GAIN, VIT-a-min
e spelling: e-LEC-tric, CEL-e-brate
i spelling: PRES-i-dent, ex-PER-i-ment
o spelling: oc-CUR, con-DI-tion
u spelling: um-BREL-la, sup-PORT
There you go. I hope that helps you understand schwa a little bit better. Schwa really is a complicated concept of American English, and English pronunciation in general. With knowledge, and practice, you can improve your English pronunciation of the schwa sound.
Thanks for listening and watching everyone.
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