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I'm not a native English speaker, and my language doesn't have the SCHWA sound. It would be so helpful if there are any tips to make the sound. Thanks,

  • I'm lost...what does the 'SCHWA' sound indicate? When is it used? – Third News May 27 '14 at 1:48
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    The shwa (or schwa) sound is the most common vowel in English. Its representation in the IPA is /ə/, which is a rotated lowercase "e" (the most common vowel letter in written English). It's the vowel in English /bət/ but, and the second vowel in batter, battle, hammock, gotta, and Hannah. It's what happens to unstressed vowels in English, which is why it's so common -- most vowels in English are in fact unstressed, since most words have only one major stressed syllable, no matter how many other syllables they may have. See umich.edu/~jlawler/modestproposal.pdf. – John Lawler May 27 '14 at 2:38
  • @ThirdNews: sounds like "about", "mirror","push"...something like that – Tosh May 27 '14 at 3:03
  • @JohnLawler: Thanks for the comment, but what I love to know is how to come out the sound. It's more like the technical wise. – Tosh May 27 '14 at 3:04
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    In articulative terms, shwa is a mid central vowel. This means that if you hold your mouth in a neutral position, neither very open nor very closed, and your tongue is more or less flat across the middle of your mouth, if you freeze your mouth like that and say a vowel, the vowel will be shwa. – John Lawler May 27 '14 at 3:21
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Some tips for the production of schwa:

(1) Stand in front of a mirror. Don't close your teeth or open your mouth, just relax your face. Make a sound as if it's coming from your throat or chest (in reality it will be coming from your vocal folds). This should be a schwa sound. In the mirror you should not be able to see your face move at all. If you recorded a video of you practising schwa, but with no sound, we would not know when you were making a sound and when you were silent, because your tongue, jaw and lips - and your face in general - should all be relaxed and not moving at all.

(2) Try to make the sound /b/ as in the word big, but just /b/ on its own. Now try the sound /d/ as in dog and then the sound /g/ as in girl. Do this two or three times. When we say these sounds on their own, we automatically put a little vowel on the end - we have to because they are voiced. If you said the sounds correctly, then you probably said /bə/, /də/ and /gə/. The little vowel that you made by accident after the consonant is a schwa. This is because you were not trying to make any special vowel there.

Schwa only occurs in unstressed syllables. The reason we make schwa like this is because we need to make unstressed syllables shorter than other ones in English. We need the other stressed syllables to be longer and to stand out. Schwas are very quick to make because we do not need to move any of the articulators (the parts of our mouth that we use to make consonants or change the sounds of vowels). If we make a big articulation, a big movement of our mouths, like we do for /æ/ in cat, we need to move our articulators a long way. For /æ/, for example, we have to spread our lips very wide, and drop our jaw very low and move the 'front' (that means the middle) of our tongue so it raises slightly up towards the roof of our mouth. This all takes a lot of time. Because of this, /æ/ is actually quite a long sound, even though it belongs to the so-called 'short vowels'. For a schwa you do not need to move anything! In conclusion then, what you need to do to make a good schwa sound is: nothing!

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It's the sound you would make if someone punched you in the abdomen -- not so hard that it made you scream out in pain or collapse to the floor, but just hard enough to knock the wind out of you. The air you would expel would most likely generate the sound of a schwa as it passed over your vocal cords.

(To test this, all you will need now is a friend with the right degree of motivation to land a blow having sufficient but not excessive force behind it. :-)

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Say uhhhhhhh as if you're thinking out loud -- mouth slightly agape, jaw slack. Do not push the air out, just sort of let your lungs drain. Continuously shorten it until you're making the sound with the equivalent of a single puff of air. Schwa!

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