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Ask a linguist - Message details

Subject: History of Schwa in English
Do you have any information about the origin of schwa? It is not mentioned in a 1936 edition of the Webster dictionary. I am curious as to when it was incorporated into the phonetic system. This information will be shared with my fourth grade class, so an explanation with simple
vocabulary would be appreciated.

Thank You.
Hi, A.,

Just a footnote to the fairly complete comments of my fellow panelists: John speaks of shwa in 'Modern English'. It almost certainly predates Old English, though, since *all* modern Germanic languages make heavy use of shwa, as far as I know. (By the way, I'm a bit hard-headed about spelling the vowel 'shwa' with no 'c', since, as Anthea mentions, the name of the vowel was borrowed from Hebrew. Of course, it was borrowed first into German, no doubt, whence the 'c', since 'sch' is how the English (and Hebrew) sound 'sh' is spelled or transliterated in German.) The common Germanic language, ancestor to the modern Germanic languages [English, German, Danish, Swedish, etc.], must have been spoken, at the latest, early in the Christian era, if not earlier.


James L. Fidelholtz
Posgrado en Ciencias del Lenguaje
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, México

Reply From: James L Fidelholtz     click here to access email
Date: Jan-29-2007
Other Replies:
  1. Re: History of Schwa in English   John M. Lawler    (Jan-29-2007)
  2. Re: History of Schwa in English   Herbert Frederic Stahlke    (Jan-29-2007)
  3. Re: History of Schwa in English   Anthea Fraser Gupta    (Jan-29-2007)

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