Schwa-Nursery Rhymes for Parental Linguists #1—Old Mʌðɚ Hʌbbɚd SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 2 Contents Fables of Linguistics—The Story of the Weak Vowels—The Tale Teller of Tollerton Town

Ode to Schwa

Schwadles Schw’Schwa

[Note: Deedles D’Dee has schwanned off somewhere despite being SchpecGram poet-in-residence. We asked his cousin, Schwadles Schw’Schwa, who is well known for her dialogic poetry, to furnish us with an ode to schwa. She’s come up with a piece whose use of unstressed meter is as radical as the entire ditty is unmemorable. —Eds]

[A:] ‘Pray tell, what’s the vowel sound of ‘a’ in ‘a car’?
It’s the same, to my ear, as the ‘a’ in ‘a bar’.’
[B:] ‘Well, the vowel in that particlethe indefinite article—
Has a name of its own to itselfand it’s schwa.

[A:] ‘But it’s not just in ‘a/an’ alone we find schwa
As we don’t say ‘hey, teach-aah’ or ‘my new comput-aah’.’
[B:] ‘It is just as you claim: the agentive morpheme
Is a second example of a lexeme with schwa.

‘Even that doesn’t show us the range of its uses:
Take ‘along’ and ‘alone’, and ‘un-’ and ‘abuses’;
And certain reduced forms of English’s pro-forms
(like ‘Uh’ like ‘er’)’re just some of this schwa’s several faces.’

‘There’s more: think of ‘for’ which gets schwa-ised as []
While ‘you’ becomes [] and ‘I’ comes out as [ə]!
Which with modifications like old /h/-deletion
Means ‘I told her for you’ is ‘[ə] told [ə] [] []’!

‘A strange little backwards and upside-down ‘e’,
Hard to discern with an odd shortcut key;
But with hardly a fuss it’s gone ubiquitous
And in English it’s found univers-i-ally.’

[A and B together in two-part schwarmony:]
‘Of the vowelsand by farit’s the stariest star;
Or the rulers and princes the shah-(r)-iest Shah;
Central, unstressed, yet it’s chock full of zest:
Th[ə] bright[ə]st, th[ə] great[ə]st, th[ə] most centr[ə]l schwa.’

Schwa-Nursery Rhymes for Parental Linguists #1—Old Mʌðɚ Hʌbbɚd
Fables of LinguisticsThe Story of the Weak VowelsThe Tale Teller of Tollerton Town
SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 2 Contents