Tuesday 25 June 2019
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business-standard - 1 month ago

At the spelling bee, the most common sound is the toughest

The word that knocked runner-up Naysa Modi out of last year s Scripps National Spelling Bee was Bewusstseinslage one of those flashy, impossible-sounding German-derived words that make the audience gasp when they are announced. Naysa believes the seemingly mundane word that knocked her out the year before was just as intimidating, if not more. For the spellers who will gather starting Monday at a convention centre outside Washington for this year s bee, an unremarkable sound is the cause of their angst, their sleepless nights, their lifelong memories of failure. It s the most common sound in the English language, represented in the dictionary by an upside-down e, a gray chunk of linguistic mortar. To the uninitiated, it sounds like Uh. Spellers know it by its proper name: the schwa. It s the bane of every speller s existence, Naysa said. It s what we hate. The schwa falls only on unstressed syllables. Any vowel can make the sound, and so can y. Sometimes a schwa can show .

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