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How do you teach someone to say the schwa sound?

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Quick Answer

Teach someone to vocalize a mid-central vowel sound, as the schwa sound is known linguistically, by having him produce a sound with a relaxed tongue, mouth and throat, similar to an "uh." The sound is created with the tongue halfway between the floor of the mouth and the hard palate and halfway between the rear and teeth of the mouth. The larynx is loose but vibrating, and the lips are slightly open to allow the expiration.

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Full Answer

The schwa sound is an unaccented, unstressed vocal sound in the English language. It is symbolized by an inverted and reversed lowercase "e" in the International Phonetic Alphabet. In regularized spelling, the schwa sound can be represented by any of the six vowels, as with the "a" in "about," the "o" in "eloquent" and the "ai" diphthong in "mountain." Additionally, the sound may also appear unrepresented by letters, as with the final vowel sound between "-th-" and "-m" in "rhythm."

The linguistic term "schwa" first appeared in early 19th century German studies, notably by Jacob Grimm. The term comes from the Hebrew word "shva," which translates as the absence of a vowel or as a mid-front unrounded vowel sound. Besides English, languages such as Albanian, Catalan and Indonesian use the schwa sound, sometimes in stressed and unstressed variations.

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