Some time ago the final clue posed to contestants on the game show Jeopardy was “This is the most used vowel sound in the English language.” None of the three contestants came up with the answer . These were very bright people. They may all have been products of our public school system. Yet they didn’t know the answer to something that RSvP students learn in Step by Step, my book for remedial students and adults.
What is the most used vowel sound in the English language? The answer is … the schwa. What is the schwa? It’s the unclear sound a vowel makes in an unaccented syllable. Look at the word “legal.” The first syllable, le, makes a clear vowel sound. This is the accented syllable. The second syllable, gal, contains an unclear vowel sound. The a in the second syllable is an unclear vowel sound, the schwa (le gal).