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ASPECTS OF CONNECTED SPEECH
quot;English people speak so fastquot; is a complaint that is often heard from the
English language students, and often from those at an advanced level, where
ignorance of the vocabulary used is not the reason for their lack of
comprehension. When students see a spoken sentence in its written form,
they have no trouble comprehending. Why is this?
The reason, it seems, is that speech is a continuous stream of sounds,
without clear-cut borderlines between each word. In spoken discourse, we
adapt our pronunciation to our audience and articulate with maximal
economy of movement rather than maximal clarity. Thus, certain words are
lost, and certain phonemes linked together as we attempt to get our message
How this affects native and non-native speakers?
A native speakers, has various devices for dealing with indistinct utterances
caused by connected speech. They take account of the context; they assume
they hear words with which they are familiar within that context.
In real life interaction, phonetically ambiguous pairs like quot; a new displayquot; / quot;
a nudist playquot;, are rarely a problem as they are actively making predictions
about which syntactic forms and lexical items are likely to occur in a given
Non-native speakers, however, are rarely able to predict which lexical item
may or may not appear in a particular situation. They tend to depend almost
solely on the sounds, which they hear. Learners whose instruction has
focused heavily on accuracy suffer a devastating diminution of phonetic
information at the segmental level when they encounter normal speech
When we move from word stress to sentence stress, we came into contact
with connected speech and were made to realize that a phrase or sentence is
much more than just a sequence of isolated words. Connected speech has its
own rules, and imposes many changes on the separate words that it is made
When we talk about weak forms in the phonetics of English this regards a
series of words, which have one pronunciation (strong) when isolated, and
another (weak) when not stressed within a phrase, e.g.
a car /ˈeɪ ˈkɑ:/
I bought a car /aɪ ˈbɔ:t ə kɑ:/
Weak forms are usually distinguished by a change in vowel quality from a
border position on the vowel quadrilateral to a central position. The vowel in
a weak form is usually the schwa (ə). Weak forms are pronounced more
quickly and at lower volume in comparison to the stressed syllables. They
are also not central to changes in intonation.
The change of position of vowel production for the articulation of weak
There is a logical explanation behind the occurrence of weak forms:
they are present in words which are necessary to construct a phrase yet, at
the same time, do not communicate a large quantity of information, in other
words, they are not content words. For example in the following phrase:
I went to the hotel and booked a room for two nights for my father and
his best friend.
The most important words, those that are central to the message, can be
I went to the hotel and booked a room for two nights for my father and his
If we eliminate the words that are not emphasised, can we still understand
went hotel booked room two nights father best
Perhaps it is difficult to be certain but it is possible to predict what the
missing words might be.
The words which we emphasised would bear the stress, while many of
those which we eliminated would become weak forms, simply because they
are less important in the conveyance of the message. Look at the sentence in
/aɪ ˈwent tə ðə həʊ ˈtel ən ˈbʊkt ə ˈru:m fə ˈtu: ˈnaɪts fə maɪ
ˈfɑ:ðər ən hɪz ˈbest ˈfrend/
You will notice that most of the unstressed words are pronounced with the
sound /ə/: prepositions such as to and for, articles a, an and the, and the
Here, we shall look at how certain sounds are forced to change because of
their environment and how other sounds just disappear. In fact, we shall see
that sounds are rather like people; they are influenced by the company they
keep. Of course, you could argue that some of these features are really not
obligatory, or that they should be the concern of only native speaker. If you
did so, we believe that you would never attain that natural fluency in
language that distinguishes a good speaker from one of just average ability.
Of course, it is not wrong to use ‘I am’ on every occasion, and ignore that
contracted form ‘ I’m ’ completely, but the speaker who does so will sound
bookish and stilted. He may, in fact, also sound a little opinionated and
Compare the following sentences:
a) I shall let you come if you are a good boy.
b) I’ll let you come if you ‘re a good boy.
As you can see, the second sentence makes use of the contracted forms I’ll
and you’re, and these are clearly shown in ordinary script. Notice, however,
that phonetic script reveals other characteristics of the sentence that would
otherwise remain concealed. The sentence illustrates a number of the
Version A: This is an example of very careful speech. Even so, notice the
use of / / in shall and the indefinite article ‘a’ / /
Version B: This is an example of a fairly rapid and colloquial style with
some interesting features that we shall soon follow up.
Here are some more examples of words beginning with the letter e but with
the sound / /
The full list of weak forms is given in several books. We shall not attempt to
give you anything like a comprehensive list here; instead, we shall illustrate
the use of certain key weak forms as they appear in connected speech.
1- Michael’s at home.
2- John has arrived
3- Jane’s arrived
4- A cup of tea and biscuits
5- I come from Jordan
6- I’ve been to China
7- I was there last year
8- Where does this go?
9- I can speak Spanish.
10- We’d like some cakes
Let us come to analyse our 10 examples and analyse them in some detail.
We said in the introduction that we believe that an ability to handle these
weak forms with some confidence is a good indication of proficiency in the
language. We are convinced that study time given to them will be time very
1- Michael’s at home.
‘Is’ has been weakened to ‘s’. A weak form that can be shown ordinary
2- John has arrived.
The form / / is a semi-weakening of has.
3- Jane’s arrived
The form z is a full weakening of has. Note that this weakened form can be
ambiguous, since Jack’s finished can mean both that he has finished and that
the unfortunate man is finished.
4- A cup of tea and biscuits.
Most of the time, the form of the indefinite article is / /. Notice the
weakening of the preposition ‘of’ to / /.
5- I come from Jordon.
The preposition from has been weakened to / / the verb come has been
similarly weakened / /.
6- I’ve been to China.
I’ve is another instance of a weak form being reflected in ordinary writing.
The verb form been / / has been weakened to / / . The preposition
to is frequently weakened to / /.
7- I was there last year.
The full form of was / / has been weakened to / /. For the moment,
just note what has happened to last year. We shall return to this feature when
we come to assimilation.
8- Where does this go?
Notice again the use of / / in the weakened form of does / /
9- I can speak Spanish.
The modal verb ‘can’ has been reduced to / /.
10-We’d like some cakes.
Notice the weakening of we / / to / / compare it to the form / / for
been. Some has been weakened to / /. In a different context, we’d
could also mean we had.
A significant difference in natural connected speech is the way that sounds
belonging to one word can cause changes in sounds belonging to
neighbouring words. Assuming that we know how the phonemes of a
particular word would be realized when the word is pronounced in isolation,
in cases where we find a phoneme realized differently as a result of being
near some other phoneme belonging to a neighbouring word we call this an
instance of assimilation. Assimilation is something which varies in extent
according to speaking rate and style: it is more likely to be found in rapid,
casual speech and less likely in slow, careful speech. Sometimes the
difference caused by assimilation is very noticeable, and sometimes it is
very slight. Generally speaking, the cases that have most often been
described are assimilations affecting consonants. As an example, consider
case where two words are combined, the first of which ends with a single
final constant ( which we will call C ) and the second of which starts with a
single initial consonant ( which we will call C ); we can construct a diagram
………….C | C………. ( ‘ | ’ shows the word boundary)
If C changes to become like C in some way, then the assimilation is called
regressive (the phoneme that comes first is affected by the one that comes
after it); if C changes to become like C in some way, then the assimilation is
In what ways can a consonant change? We have seen that the main
differences between consonants are of three types.
1) differences in place of articulation;
2) difference in manner of articulation;
3) differences in voicing.
let us look at these examples and their transcription. The words are ‘excuse’
and ‘ exist’.
/ / / /
Why should the first have a / / sound and the second a / / sound? To
answer this question, or at least to give it a partial answer for the present, we
need to look at the environment of the sound. That is, we have to examine
some of the other sounds that are adjacent to it, because they can exert a lot
of influence. This is what we meant in the introduction when we said that
sounds are influenced by the company they keep.
In the first word, excuse, the first consonant is followed by two voiceless
sounds; in the second word, exist, it is followed by two voiced sounds. The
consonant in question adapts itself to become more like what follows. It
becomes, in part, similar to its neighbour- it becomes ‘assimilated’.
This strong tendency for voiced and voiceless sounds to influence adjacent
sounds and assimilate them is well illustrated by three different kinds of
‘plural s’ endings. Let us look at them very briefly.
a) book > books - Voiceless / / is followed by voiceless / /:/ /
b) bag > bags - Voiced / / is followed by voiced / /: / /
c) catch > catches - voiced vowel sound / / is followed by voiced / /
Notice in type c, that the plural ending is voiced / / although catch itself
ends in / / which is a voiceless consonant. This is because it needs a
vowel sound to follow it.
Another kind of assimilation, and a much more radical one, is the one
exemplified by the phrases:
Let you / /
Last year / /
Under the influence of the / j / sound. / t / has become / /. This is the
phonetic formula for the change- / /+/ /= / /
To what extent is this common feature of English phonology, and are any
other sounds involved? We shall give some evidence and then shall give
some important formulas regarding this phenomenon of assimilation.
Let you / / or / /
Don’t you / / / /
Did yasmin….? / /
Did you? / /
This year / /
Pass your… / /
These yellow socks / /
Those ewes / /
Below are given some examples:
1- I’ll let you borrow it.
2- Don’t you know about it?
3- Did you hear the rumour?
4- He wants to become a soldier.
5- But he hasn’t finished his education.
6- These ewes are really fat.
7- Don’t you lose your new books.
By examining these examples very carefully we can formulate other rules to
account for all the assimilations.
/t/ + /j/ = / /
/d/ + /j/ = / /
/s/ + /j/ = / /
/z/ + /j/ = / /
Remember that / j / is the phonetic symbol for ‘y’.
You will have noticed that / j / is a key sound in this type of assimilation. It
is this sound that seems to trigger it off. This kind of assimilation is hardly
ever shown in writing, but there are just a few instances of it occurring in
very colloquial slang English. Pakistani children may come across these
forms if they read certain American comics. Here are two example of the
kind of thing that we mean.
‘Betcha’ for ‘ ( I ) bet you’ as in ‘ Betcha can’t catch me.
‘ Gotcha’ for ‘( I ‘ve ) got you’ as in ‘ Gotcha at last ’
You will see that these non-standard spellings are an attempt to make the
written language more like the spoken. It might be interesting to speculate
about the possibility of this trend becoming more noticeable in future.
If assimilation means the variation of a sound, elision means, the lose of a
sound. The nature of elision may be stated quite simply: under certain
circumstances sounds disappear; one might express this in more technically
language by saying that in certain circumstances a phoneme may be realized
as zero, or have zero realization or be deleted. As with assimilation, elision
is something, which foreign learners do not need to learn to do, but it is
important for them to be aware that when native speakers of English talk to
each other, quite a number of phonemes that the foreigner might expect to
hear are not actually pronounced. We will look at some examples, although
only a small number of the many possibilities can be given here. Here is an
example of elision and assimilation going together.
The word ‘ handbag’ is frequently pronounced / / because –
b) One stop consonant elides another which is directly in front
of it, so the / d / disappears and we are left with / /
c) / n / is assimilated to / m / because of the adjacent / b / of
So the sequence of change is:
/ / > / / > / /
The two most frequently elided consonants are / t / and / d /. The form
/ / for good boy is in fact, a similar elision to the one we have
just noted in handbag. Elision is very simply the omission of certain sounds
in certain contexts. The most important occurrences of this phenomenon
1) Alveolar consonants /t/ and /d/ when ‘sandwiched’ between two
The next day…. /ðə ˈneks ˈdeɪ/
The last car… /ðə ˈlɑ:s ˈkɑ:/
Hold the dog! /ˈhəʊl ðə ˈdɒg/
Send Frank a card. /sen ˈfræŋk ə ˈkɑ:d/
This can also take place within affricates / / and / / when preceded
by a consonant, e.g.
lunchtime /ˈlʌntʃtaɪm/ /ˈlʌnʃtaɪm/
strange days /ˈstreɪndʒˈdeɪz/ /ˈstreɪnʒˈdeɪz/
The phoneme /t/ is a fundamental part of the negative particle not, the
possibility of it being elided makes the foreign students life more difficult.
Consider the negative of can – if followed by a consonant the /t/ may easily
disappear and the only difference between the positive and the negative is a
different, longer vowel sound in the second:
I can speak…. /aɪ kən ˈspi:k/
I can’t speak… /aɪ ˈkɑ:n(t) ˈspi:k/
Note that when can’t is followed by a vowel, e.g. ‘I can’t eat’, the / t / is not
2) A second form involves the omission of the schwa / / before liquids
/ l / and / r /, e.g.
In some cases this elision may be optional (dictionaries usually represent
the optional sound in italics e.g. /ˈlʌnt ʃtaɪm/, in others it is the norm
In real connected speech, we sometimes link words together in special ways.
The most familiar case is the use of linking r; the phoneme r does not occur
in syllable-final position in the BBC accent, but when a word’s spelling
suggests a final r, and a word beginning with a vowel follows, the usual
pronunciation is to pronounce with r. for example:
‘here’ / / but ‘here are’ / /
‘four’ / / but ‘four eggs’ / /
BBC speakers often use ‘ r ’ in a similar way to link words ending with a
vowel, even when there is no “ justification ” from the spelling, as in:
‘Formula A’ / /
‘Austrailia all out’ / /
This has been called intrusive r; some English speakers and teachers still
regard this as incorrect or sub-standard pronunciation, but it is undoubtedly
The phenomenon of r-linking is based on the fact that, by default, in
Standard British English (though not in many other accents of English), / r /
in syllable final position is not pronounced, e.g. car /kɑ:/. R-linking takes
place when a syllable ends with one of the following vowel sounds: /ɑ:/,
/ɔ:/, /ɜ:/, /ə/, or any of the diphthongs that finish with a schwa, e.g.
/eə/, /ɪə/ and /ʊə/, and the next syllable starts with any vowel sound.
This may take place within single words, e.g.
1- Care /keə/
2- Caring /keərɪŋ/
or between word boundaries, e.g.
3- Care about /keər əbaʊt/
Note that, while a letter 'r' often appears in the spelling of the vowel sounds
listed above, this is not always the case. For example, a common
orthographic realisation of /ɔ:/ is [aw], e.g. saw, draw, paw, similarly the
schwa, /ə/ has spellings that don't include 'r', e.g. Australia, Austria. In
these cases r-linking also takes place, even though there are those who
would object to such pronunciations.
4- Draw all the flowers /drɔ:r ɔ:l ðə flaʊəz/
There's a comma
5- /ðəz ə kɒmər ɑ:ftə θæt/
Australia or New
6- /ɒsˈtreɪlɪər ɔ: nju: ˈzi:ln̩d/
Here are some more examples:
7- It's near enough /ɪts nɪər ɪˈnʌf/
8- It's quite far away /ɪts kwaɪt fɑ:r əˈweɪ/
9- The doctor agrees /ðə dɒktər əˈgri:z/
There are three
10- /ðər ə ˈθri: ˈpleɪsɪz/
There's a tour along
11- /ðəz ə tʊər əlɒŋ ðə ˈrɪvə/
It's made of fur and
12- /ɪts meɪd əv ˈfɜ:r ən ˈleðə/
13- Law and order /lɔ:r ən ɔ:də/
The actor and
14- /ðɪ ˈæktər ən ˈpleɪraɪt/
I can't hear
15- /aɪ kɑ:n hɪər enɪθɪŋ/
It should by now be clear that there is a great deal of difference between the
way words are pronounced in isolation and in the context of connected
speech. It would not be practical or useful to teach all learners of English to
produce assimilations; practice in making elisions is more useful, and it is
clearly valuable to do exercises related to rhythm and linking. Perhaps the
most important consequence of what has been described in this assignment
is that learners of English must be made very clearly aware of the problem
that they will meet in listening to colloquial connected speech.
Roach,Peter(2004) “English Phonetics and Phonology”,Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press.
“Phonology”(2008)Allama Iqbal Open University Islamabad.
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