The Music of English – Vanishing Vowels

Episode 3 of The Music of English expands on examples of the use of schwa and introduces a new concept, “vanishing vowels.”

I can’t stress enough the importance of using your ears rather than your eyes to learn how to speak English because our spelling can be awfully deceptive. Not only do we replace vowels with that lazy little grunt “schwa,” but we often eliminate vowels altogether. I call it “The Vanishing Vowel Trick” because we seem to make vowels disappear magically.

Once again, I illustrate with five words used early on in Episode 3, the very common ones—“actually,” interesting,” “every” and “different”—and the less common word “individually.” “Individually” is an interesting choice. Most often, we say it pretty slowly, articulating every vowel. But what we anglophones don’t even realize is that, as soon as we talk quickly, we drop the “u.”

Other examples of common words that drop vowels are:

vanishing vowels

We anglophones love to play around with the sounds of our vowels. If they’re too hard to say, we just get rid of them. If we need one to help us move from one consonant to the one beside it, we just add “schwa.” If we want (or need) to say a vowel but we just can’t, or we’re just too lazy to use the one that’s already there, we just replace it with “schwa.” Anything to make it easier for us to speak.

This episode’s listening suggestion is a song called “Tiny Glass Houses.” One of the nice things about it is that it’s slow. The singer/songwriter, Amelia Curran, takes the time to articulate, which means there are fewer dropped vowels and schwas. When you read the lyrics, you’ll see the word “memory” four times. It’s always spelled with the vowel [o]. But the first three times she’s singing “mem’ry,” as if the [o] weren’t there. The lyrics are in the notes section of the “Tiny Glass Houses” video, but the video is just the album “cover art” with the song.

So if you use the version of the lyrics here [Tiny Glass Houses lyrics], you can read along with the song and see the vanishing vowels, schwas and the syllable stress identified for you.

And, of course, it’s always good practice to read along with each episode to give your ears a good “work-out,” listening carefully to the pronunciation, then speaking the text aloud, stopping and starting the video to check what you’re hearing against what you’re reading AND how you’re saying it. The third episode is here [Episode 3-Vanishing vowels].

As always, if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.