The seventh of February, 2011: schwa

“The term was first used by German philologists who borrowed it from the Hebrew shewa, meaning a diacritic, or written sign, indicating the lack of a vowel sound. Far from lacking, schwa is by far the commonest sound in English. It is heard in the second syllable of ‘father’, ‘mother’, ‘sister’, ‘brother’, ‘dinner’, ‘supper’, and in the first syllable of ‘apart’, ‘canoe’, ‘conundrum’. It is the indefinite article in ‘a boy’, ‘a girl’, ‘a love affair’. It is the tongue at rest in the middle of the mouth, it is colourless and lazy-sounding. All vowel-sounds in slack English speech tend to move towards schwa. Yet this, the commonest sound, has no alphabetic letter of its own.”

– Anthony Burgess, A Mouthful Of Air (Vintage, 1992), ch. 6

I like the idea of writing a novel entitled Schwa.


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