unstressed vowel

This vowel is called “schwa” by linguists.

a as in sofa

a…e as in delicate

ae as in aesthetic

ah as in mynah

ai as in portrait

ar as in dollar

au as in restaurant

e as in event

ei as in foreign

er as in super

ere as in hovered

i as in pencil

i…e as in granite

ie as in mischievous

ier as in papier-maché

ir as in tapir, elixir

o as in omit

o…e as in purpose

oar as in cupboard

oi as in porpoise

or as in tractor

ou as in jealous

ough as in borough

our as in colour

r as in fire

re as in metre

u as in cherub

u…e as in minute

ui as in circuit

ur as in murmur

ure as in nature

y as in vinyl

yr as in martyr

6 thoughts on “unstressed vowel

  1. Alex

    Wow, this list is super helpful. There are so many resources that mention a few spelling patterns for unstressed vowels, but it’s hard to find more thorough ones like this. I also like that this list covers unstressed vowels in general (not separating ones that might be transcribed /ə/ versus unstressed /ɪ/), since those have overlap for many speakers and aren’t always consistently transcribed in dictionaries.

    I’ve been looking around for additional patterns and found a couple possible ones.
    – ‘eau’ as in ‘bureaucrat’ (can’t think of any other examples for this pattern)
    – ‘ua’ as in ‘usually’ and ‘casually’ (in the US I hear a range for these words, from 3 syllables with /ə/ to 4 syllables with /ʊə/ or /uə/, but I’m not sure how common this is in other dialects)

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Thanks for the nice feedback re the lists! I ended up deciding not to go too far down into the weeds on current-day pronunciations of some polysyllabic words, and to try to stick to lemmas, because there are so many elided and unstressed syllables that are better learnt by using a “spelling voice” pronunciation of the word, and thinking about its morphemes. ‘Bureaucrat’ is ‘bureau’ (as in plateau, gateau etc, I do have a list of these words here http://www.spelfabet.com.au/spelling-lists/sorted-by-sound/oh/eau-as-in-plateau/) plus Greek combining form ‘crat’ meaning ‘rule’ (as in plutocrat, autocrat, democrat) so if kids learn that its a combination of these two word parts, they will be able to spell and read ‘bureaucrat’. I’d code ‘usual’ and ‘casual’ with ‘u’ as in ‘unit’ (though I don’t think they’re on that list, so I might add them, thanks), and then ‘usually’ and ‘casually’ are suffixed forms, with one letter L belonging to the base and one to the suffix. Hope that makes sense! I was going on a hiding to nothing trying to explain the phoneme-grapheme correspondences in long, academic vocabulary, and figured that once kids were up to that, they had phonemes and graphemes pretty much nailed, and needed to focus on morphology. That wasn’t my original position, though, I was very focussed on phonology and had to learn from colleagues about the importance of morphology. I think it’s a weakness in otherwise great phonics programs now, and that the two strands need to be woven together from very early on, starting with the inflectional morphemes. Hope that all makes sense and thanks for your feedback, it’s great to know that other people are going through my lists and raising questions and pointing out mistakes, it’s hard to edit one’s own work. I’ve had a professional editor go through them all but she isn’t a linguist so she missed a few things. Thanks again, Alison

      Reply
      1. Alex

        Thanks for the additional responses! All very helpful and interesting for me to read.

        I totally agree with all of that, and both the spelling voice (something I’ve always used for myself) and the morphology side are things I want to think about more.

        I work as a speech-language pathologist but haven’t done too much on the literacy side, both because I currently work with a pre-literacy age range and because in some settings here (like an elementary school I did part of my training in), other specialists can be the ones to focus on reading skills (though I’m sure this varies a ton with setting and student, and I’m still fairly new to the field).

        I actually found your website through researching phoneme-grapheme correspondence for my other job, which is teaching pronunciation, spelling, and other aspects of English to non-native English speaking adults. I think that context is part of why I’m getting into the weeds a bit and exploring uncommon patterns. It’s not necessary for all my students, but I’ve had some who learn pronunciation of a new sound and say ‘Okay, how do I know when to use this new sound? What are all the ways it can be spelled?’

        I can see how the approach might be different for these different fields, though I’m sure there’s still plenty of overlap. I’m definitely going to try to think more on the morphology side as I plan this part of my teaching and work on my materials.

        Reply

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