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Lecture 2: The Schwa (Part I)
or a native speaker of English, the schwa, or , is a wonderful sound, because it uses few muscles and needs just a little energy to say. It is as if the schwa is in a comfortable valley, and other vowels are on the rough mountain. The vowels on the mountain often roll down into the valley and become a schwa. The first vowels of marine, meridian, miraculous, morality, and surround are all schwas. There is a big difference between a true schwa, //, and //. We can see the difference in supply and supper. The u of supply, unstressed, is a true schwa, a much weaker vowel than the stressed u of supper. The schwa has been called the "unclear vowel."
A rule of English pronunciation is that most unstressed vowels are a schwa, whatever the written letter. Because there are more unstressed syllables than stressed in English, the schwa is the most common English vowel. Therefore, learning about the schwa improves your pronunciation and rhythm without requiring a lot of work.
We can say the schwa more quickly than stressed vowels. Many common little words have a schwa, as do most unstressed syllables in longer words. Changing between "quick" unstressed syllables and "slow" stressed syllables gives English much of its rhythm. If your English is slow, maybe you don't use the schwa.