Fables of Linguistics—The Story of the Weak Vowels—The Tale Teller of Tollerton Town SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 2 Contents 50 Schwas of Vowel—Advertisement

The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective

Are you in a world of linguistic hurt? The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective (SLAC) will offer you empirical, empathic, emphatic advice you can use!*

Remember, if you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, then you don’t need advice! So, if you need advice, trust usand cut yourself some SLAC!


Dear SLAC,

You’ve done so many plurals recentlya plurality of plurals, even! One more for the road? As someone who often says things, I occasionally find myself using more than one schwa per utterance. So that I can journal about this phenomenon accurately in my Daily Reflective Linguistic Diary, could you please tell me what the plural of schwa might be?

—Shirley (Shir) Wah

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Dear Shirley-You’re-Joking,

As any classicist could tell you, schwa is a first declension noun (most probably feminine), and thus the plural is schwae.

—SLAC Unit #50657465

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Dear Shergar,

Since it has that good Germanic orthographic onset, I want the plural to be schwan. In fact, come to think of it, that means that the singular actually should be cygnet.

—SLAC Unit #4b65697468

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Dear Shirley Berko Gleason,

IDK. **schwugs**

—SLAC Unit #456d696c79

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Dear Shirley-san,

Speaking as a Tokyo-based schwamurai, In Japanese, it’s 手話たち (‘shuwatachi’), but you knew that.

—SLAC Unit #54656c

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Dear Der Schwirly,

The plural is schwëghņ.

—SLAC Unit #4d61726b

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Dear Shirl P. Morgan

The plural is schwab, and that’s an answer you can take to the bank.

—SLAC Unit #56696e63656e74

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Dear Š. Wa,

It is commonly, though erroneously, assumed that the plural of schwa is schwas. This is, however, an inaccurate assessment. Schwa, as is well known, is a borrowing from the German Schwa, and so has no place being in the English language as such. To determine the correct form, we must determine the expected outcome of the Proto-Germanic ancestor of the German Schwa in English.

The reconstructed Proto-Germanic form of the word, as far as can be gleaned from Germanic sources, is *skwehaz. No descendant of this word is attested in Old English, but deriving the English form is a trivial matter.

First, Proto-Germanic > English sound laws can be applied to convert *skwehaz into *scwehaz. Next, the word undergoes phonological tualmu, resulting in *scwahaz. This is followed by the transformation of all vowels into a mid-central vowel as a result of the English drive for efficiency: *scwəhəz. Finally, the second mid-central vowel is deleted because.

As a result, we arrive at the plural scwəhz (pronounced [ʃwəxz]), which, to reflect the contemporary norms of English spelling, can be orthographically changed to shwuhz.

I hope this has answered your question satisfactorily and that this primer has allowed you to break free of one of the many linguistic failings of the las az οἱ πολλοίene.

—SLAC Unit #4c756361

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Dear Wah’s World,

According to the film, Wayne’s World, it’s already plural. The singular is schwing ... not!

—SLAC Unit #4a6f6e617468616e

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Dear שו,

SLAC Unit #4a6f6e617468616e is doubly incorrect. We learned in Wayne’s World 2 that schwing is singular, schwinger is plural. Party on! Clearly, neither is the plural of schwa.

Actually, it is in fact a Hebrew noun borrowed into Greek, with the plural schwata.

—SLAC Unit #4d696b61656c

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Dɚ Shɚlə Wə,

The correct way to view schwa is as a form of linguistic (and possibly existential) laziness. Therefore, an increase in schwa-itude ought to be reflected in a corresponding increase in laziness. As such, the paucal of schwa should the clipped and reduced form wuh //, while the plural form is just /ə/. (Note that the proper plural has no written form, as writing it down would require too much effort.)

Determining the proper relationship between wuh and wug is left as an exercise for the reader.

—SLAC Unit #54726579

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Dear Shir, lee, ooo wah-wah, ting, tang, walla-walla bing-bang,

Schwa is pluralised via reduplication. There are (at least) two variations:

The partially attested Old Church Schwavonic also declines it apparently for case with -n in the plural (often considered the inspiration for Zam’s Eo accusative), a genitive which follows the nom and a dative, incongruously realised as -dative (!). Plural is an infix of -eeek- between the onset and nucleus of the root lexeme. So:


—SLAC Unit #4465616b

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Wait, now I remember! You’re all wrong, it’s schwapodes.

—SLAC Unit #456d696c79

* Advice is not guaranteed to be useful, practical, or even possible. Do not attempt at home. Consult a doctor (of linguistics, philology, orin a pinchanthropology) before undertaking any course of treatment. This advice is not intended to cure or treat any disease or condition, inherent or contingent. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental, except when it is not. “Empirical” means that we asked at least two other “people” whether our advice was good; one or more of those “people” may be voices in our own heads. “Emphatic” means that you may print out a copy of the advice for personal use in a medium, semi-bold, bold, heavy, black, or ultra-black weight of an italic or oblique typeface using an enlarged font size. “Empathic” means that deep down, in the darkest recesses of our blackest heart of hearts, we really, really care ♥just not necessarily about you.

Fables of LinguisticsThe Story of the Weak VowelsThe Tale Teller of Tollerton Town
50 Schwas of VowelAdvertisement
SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 2 Contents