Schwa Discipline

My wife and I organized the Second Annual Pacific Palisades Spelling Bee yesterday, and talking to one of the word pronouncers led me to think up this phrase. In English (and some other languages), unstressed vowels often come out sounding very similar, with a short sound that is known as the schwa. In normal speech, we generally take no pains to distinguish the original vowel, but when we pronounce a word in a context where we want someone to spell it right, we might sometimes try to artificially stress or elongate the sound to make the letter clear. “Schwa discipline” consists of a spelling bee pronouncer’s resisting the temptation to give contestants this sort of subtle hint about the spelling.