Sunday, January 8, 2012

Schwa in North American and British English

The pronunciation of North American English is quite different from that of British. One of the differences concerns the schwa. It is often pronounced by British speakers in words in which North Americans use a different vowel.

The following words are pronounced differently by Brits and North Americans:

Lebanon
phenomenon
marathon
Amazon
lexicon
octagon
mascot
Edinburgh
hurricane
thorough
ceremony
testimony

In Lebanon, phenomenon, marathon, Amazon, lexicon and octagon, the final vowel is a schwa in British English. In North American English, however, the final vowel is the same as the "a" of father.

In the word mascot, the pattern is the same. British English has a schwa in the final vowel but North American English does not.

The capital city of Scotland is pronounced differently by Brits and North Americans. In British English it has only three syllables. The "u" is not pronounced and the final vowel is a schwa. In North American English, it has four syllables and the final vowel is the same as the "o" of go.

In North American English the final vowel of hurricane is the a of late. In British English, however, the final vowel is a schwa.

The final vowel of thorough is a schwa in British English but has the "o" of go in North American English.

In ceremony and testimony, the third vowel is pronounced with the "o" of go in North American English. In British English, however, this vowel is a schwa.

Many words are pronounced differently by British and North American speakers. A number of words which are pronounced with a schwa in British English are pronounced with a different vowel in North American English. If the pronunciation of the schwa in these words is viewed as the result of vowel weakening, one can say that British English is more innovative and North American English is more conservative in this aspect of pronunciation.


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