Silent Schwa /sajlənt ʃwa/ is a bit of a linguist geek joke.

Schwa is used to phonetically represent is the mid-central, neutral vowel sound typically occurring in unstressed syllables in English.  In other words, it kinda has an “uh” sound to it.  For example, the “a” sound in “alone” or the “e” sound in “system.”  (This is also the sound you are likely hear when you ask the pimply-faced kid at Best Buy where to find the Slim Whitman albums.)  This sound occurs in many other places, but the aforementioned examples should suffice. In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), schwa is rendered as ə.

Get it?


Some of my students dressed me up at this year’s Saudi festival at ASU. And took pictures. LOTS of pictures.

Anyhoo, my name is Michael Hacker.  I’m originally from Iowa, but have lived all over the the United States and Asia, and currently reside in the Valley of the Sun (that’s Phoenix, AZ for those who don’t actually live in Phoenix, AZ).  I’ve been a language nerd for most of my life, and this is my online sketchbook of all stuff languagey.  (At least all the stuff that interests me.)

I speak a few languages (a bit of French, a bit more Russian, a lotta bits of Japanese, and allegedly English), am toying with a couple others (German and Spanish), and can read a smattering of 20 or so other languages.  Perhaps I’ll learn Arabic and Mandarin someday, too.

It all started with the book “Niemand hört auf Andreas” which I found in my elementary school library around grade four.  I probably checked that book out a hundred times.  Through it, I learned my first bits of German (most of which I have since forgotten).

Once I became a high school student, I enrolled in French classes.  This furthered my love of foreign language, and eventually lead to my first trip to another country (Québec, Canada).  I loved my trip there, and still want to see France.  I regret letting my French slip, but still listen to music and read a bit of the language when I can.

Upon graduation, I enlisted in the United States Air Force.  After completing basic training, I was shipped to the Defense Language Institute in lovely Monterey, CA, where I was given the choice of studying Russian, Russian, or Russian.  I chose Russian.  The day before my first class, I “celebrated” my 18th birthday.

Toward the end of my stay at DLI, I received orders to Japan, where I lived (by choice) for the next 10 years.  This all happened over 20 years ago, and I have been studying the Japanese language, culture, and martial arts ever since.

I have applied to the graduate studies department in Linguistics at Arizona State University, and am awaiting word on whether I’ve been accepted.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say here once that gets going.

I’ve been accepted to Arizona State University’s graduate program in Linguistics, and start in the fall semester of 2010.

I am a graduate student in Applied Linguistics at Arizona State University.

I have a Master of Arts degree in Linguistics (English) and teach English as a Second Language at Arizona State University.