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There are many graphemes that can represent the schwa sound, several of which start with an E:

  • EI as in FOREIGN
  • EO as in SURGEON or DUNGEON

I am curious if the grapheme EA can also represent a schwa sound. The only possibility I can think of is OCEAN (/ˈoʊ.ʃən/).

  • The O represents a Long O sound.
  • The C can represent an /ʃ/, as in words like APPRECIATE, OFFICIATE, DEPRECIATE, SPECIES and ASSOCIATE).
  • The EA could represent a /ə/, as EI, EO and EU do.
  • And the N often represents an /n/.

But it's also possible that the CE represents an /ʃ/, as it does in CRETACEOUS, CURVACEOUS, CRUSTACEAN, and ECHINACEA. Then the A by itself would represent the schwa, not the EA.

I am trying to think of any other words where EA represents a schwa. The closest I can find is the EAU in BUREAUCRAT.

Are there any English words where the EA grapheme represents a schwa sound?

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    Which accent/dialect/country? Possibly "forehead" in some accents but we're going to get deep into a debate about reduced vowels and you'll wish you never asked the question.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 27, 2023 at 9:19
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    If "surgeon" is acceptable for "EO", is "sergeant" acceptable for "EA"? (Not sure I'd accept either, personally, hence not posting as an answer!)
    – psmears
    Mar 27, 2023 at 10:19
  • I would definitely accept sergeant fot EA... if you add that, I'd accept it as an answer!
    – kanamekun
    Mar 27, 2023 at 13:26
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    One must accept the fact that in English spelling it is often impossible to reliably assign pieces of the word's pronunciation to pieces of the word's spelling (or vice versa). Mar 27, 2023 at 14:07
  • 1
    Or, as every honest ESL teacher tells their students, English spelling has no reliable relation to English pronunciations, meaning that both have to be learned, separately, for each word.. Just like Chinese. Mar 27, 2023 at 18:52

2 Answers 2

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I'm not sure I'd accept it myself, but if "surgeon" and "dungeon" are acceptable for "EO", then for "EA"

Sergeant

might fit the bill.

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According to Wiktionary, in GenAmE, laryngeal and pharyngeal may be pronounced with no sound corresponding to the e. So you could say that ea is pronounced [ə]. (But it could be argued that really the e is silent and the a on its own is pronounced [ə].)

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    Yes, In those cases it might well be that those speakers analyse the < e > as there to make the < g > ‘soft’. Again making it really a case of just the < a > representing a schwa. (So the < e > is interpreted as part of a < ge > digraph, not an < ea > one) Mar 27, 2023 at 15:05

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