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THE APPRENTICE Feb 23rd, 2014 09:43 pm

Schwa sound in function words.
Dear members and teachers:

''We need a stressed syllable for a Schwa sound to exist, even in function words; otherwise there will be no Schwa''.

Function words unlike content words are those that do not belong to dictionary words and are less important than content or lexical words in a text or conversation. They are grammatical words connecting with content words.

Although Schwa sound does not ocurr in monosyllable words, function words are monosyllable words in which its vowels are reduced to Schwa for fitting the rhythm in the spoken English.


As my quote states, a stressed syllable is needed for a Schwa. In spoken English sounds are connected together as one sound, so in that connection of sounds there are interval of stressed and unstressed sounds.

1) Is there a stressed syllable prior to or after the syllable that becomes Schwa in function words?

2) When there are consecutive schwa sounds, is the next syllable to be the stressed one? For example:

a) I reached for the potato /aɪ riːtʃt fə ə pəˈteɪtəʊ/

In this clause there are three consecutive schwa sounds - two from function words and one from a content word -, but after the schwas there is a stressed syllable. It seems to me that the verb REACH is stressed in its syllable, but I do not know whether it is a primary stress or a secondary one.

b) I worked for them /aɪ ˈwɜːkt fə əm/

In this clause there are two consecutive schwa sounds - one from a function word and the other from a content word -, but I find that prior to these two schwas there is a stressed syllable in WORK.

c) I know that in monosyllable words several consecutive schwas can be followed by the adjacent syllables, as in CONSONANT /ˈkɒnsənənt/ ; IMAGINABLE /ɪˈmdʒənəbəl/ and much more, but what I would like to know is, if in spoken English a stressed syllable has to be whether prior to the schwa sound or before.

Finally, I think that it has to be a stressed syllable for a schwa to exist, no matter how many schwa sounds there are consecutively.

I ask for your cooperation and assistance in this topic.

My best regards.

susan53 Oct 22nd, 2014 11:38 am

Re: Schwa sound in function words.
Sorry, but your quote (where did you get it from? Always cite sources so they can be checked in context) just isn't true. Many function words - or grammatical words, like auxiliaries, prepositions, conjunctions etc - are monosyllabic words - eg are, can, to, for, and, but etc, and the question of whether they are stressed or not is entirely one of context. It's a matter of sentence stress, not word stress - which is what you indicate in your third paragraph.

For example, if they are at the end of an utterance they will be stressed, and a strong vowel will be used. The same if they are "cited" in an utterance, or carry emphatic or contrastive stress. In other positions they may be unstressed. Some examples :

David can(1)certainly be there. I'm not sure about Ellen, but I expect she can (2).
1 = /kən/ unstressed 2= /kn/ stressed
A : What are you looking for (1)? / B : For (2)the scissors.
1 = /fɔ:/ stressed 2= /fə/ unstressed

So this means your questions are irrelevant. There's no need to look for a stressed syllable, because it's not necessary to have one for the schwa to occur.

As for questions of primary/secondary stress, secondary stress is only relevant to multisyllabic words. It's a feature of word stress - eg the word secondary has primary stress on /sek/ and secondary stress on /de/. As the word reached /ri:ʧt/is monosyllabic, it can only have one stress, which is by definition primary.

Can I suggest that your questions would be much easier to understand if you simplify them. Avoid background commentary, ask one question per post, and if you have others, include them in follow up posts after you've seen the reply. I think you'll find you get quicker and more satisfactory answers like that. At the moment it's very difficult to understand exactly what you mean, as so many things are jumbled up together.

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