[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Winter 1979 p1]
Also on this page: Phoneme for unstressed shwa.
[I.R.A.: see Bulletin topics.]

25th Annual Convention of the International Reading Association at St. Louis, Mo. May 5-9, 1980.

It will include two special meetings of interest to our readers: Committee on Spelling Research - co-sponsored by the British Simplified Spelling Society.

Program Organizer: John Downing, Univ. of Victoria, Can.
Chairperson: yet to be selected.
Speaker: John Downing, President, Simplified Spelling Society.
Subject: 'How Children Think About Spelling.'

The other, a joint IRA-Phonemic Spelling Council meeting, will be held Thurs, May 8, 1980.
Organizer: Emmett Albert Betts, Ph.D., LL.D. Research Prof. Emeritus, Univ. of Miami, Fla.
Topic: "Word Perception: Strategies and Tactics"
Chairperson: Dr. Katherine P. Betts, Florida Southern College.
Dr. Emmett A. Betts, Univ. of Miami
Dr. Lou E. Burmeister, Univ. of Texas at El Paseo
Dr. John Downing, Univ. of Victoria
Dr. Thomas Horn, Univ. of Texas at Austin
Dr. Milton Jacobson, Univ. of Virginia
Dr. Donald C. McFeely, Indiana Univ. at Pennsylvania
Dr. Michael Strange, Univ. of Texas at Austin


Panelists present facets of English orthography (writing system) which facilitate and interfer with pupil-acquisition of word-perception skills, e.g., phonic rules in terms of application/exception ratios, ambiguity of rules, syllabication generalizations, effects of syllable and phrase stress on applicability of phonic rules. Demonstrate techniques for application and for teaching, e.g., "first-aid" for pupils requesting help during silent reading, phonics countdowns and substitution methods, a Russian training system in word-perception skills. Audience questions may address the above, as well as constraints influencing word perception and factors contributing to effective teaching of word-perception skills.


[Spelling Reform Anthology §9.6 p145]
[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Winter 1979, p5]

[Helen Bisgard Bonnema: see Journal, Anthology, Bulletins.]

In Defense of a Separate Phoneme for Unstressed Shwa, by Helen B. Bisgard, Ed.D.

Comments on one section of Dr. Katherine Betts' treatise, "Language, Orthography, and the Schwa."

Dr. K. Betts' research paper is comprehensive and states the results of her extensive study with scientific and professional detachment.

After she presented this survey before the British Simplified Spelling Society International Conference of 1979, she answered questions from the audience during the 15 minutes alloted to her, as had been done to other speakers. She stimulated such great interest in her topic that during the subsequent informal discussions at meal times and evening socializing, the shwa was the center of attention. The consensus of opinion held by the groups in which I participated may be summarized as follows: (I use the simpler spelling shwa, omitting the German c, as in one of the forms recognized by Random House Unabridged Dictionary.)

The Hebrew origin of shwa, "name of a point marking want of a vowel sound," has influenced its English usage. The shwa has for many years signified (1) "an unstressed vowel that is the usual sound of the first and last vowels of America " (Merriam Webster's New Student's Dictionary 1964), (2) the symbol a has represented this unstressed sound in the writings of linguists following the example of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) of 1887. The IPA indicates what is considered a phonetic difference and writes the word abundant as [abʌndənt], while K. Betts' paper concentrates upon the phonemic similarity of the vowel sounds and would show the pronunciation as in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary: /əbəndənt/.

The following list compares a traditional spelling of each of the vowels which the public calls "short" and a t.o. pronunciation of each of these vowels, with a system which uses the shwa symbol.

Popular name
of vowel sound
t.o. spellings used to denote
this sound in syllables
receiving stress
Same t.o. spelling used
in an unstresed syllable
short a
short e
short i
short o
short u
a reformed spelling such as British Wurld Inglish, System 2, these words appear as:
təmaetə or təmaatə
When the shwa is defined as indicating lack of stress in syllables where it appears, any other syllables stand out prominently. The readers' eyes can focus on them:
maet or maat

G. & C. Merriam's Webster's Dictionary and 14 linguists are cited by K. Betts as using the shwa grapheme ə for designating both stressed and unstressed allophones. They also inject an additional symbol ' to indicate which syllable of a word is stressed. Their purpose is not the same as that of the orthographic reformer who spells words in such a manner that a reader may subconsciously glance at it as an aid to recognizing the meaning of the entire communication. The orthographic reformer strives for a notation having a self-reading degree of compatibility with t.o. Therefore he employs no diacritics. How fortunate that he has the shwa grapheme to convey lack of syllable stress in addition to sound.

To retain this attribute for indicating lack of stress, the shwa grapheme should be reserved for use only in those unstressed syllables. Consequently, since the most frequent spelling for shwa phoneme syllables which do receive stress is "short u," it seems expedient to continue employing "short u" in that situation.

Lexicographers may not agree with spelling reform strategists about this but both groups will do well to keep in mind that no one phonemic notation can be best for all purposes.


If you can read this, thank a teacher. (from Spelling Action, Australia)

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