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CONNECTED SPEECH

Overview
What

is connected speech?
Aspects of connected speech
Weak Forms
Elision
Assimilation
Linking

What is connected speech


?
"English

people speak so fast" is a complaint I often hear


from my 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 across.

What is connected speech?


When

we speak naturally we do not pronounce a


word, stop, then say the next word in the
sentence. Fluent speech flows with a rhythm and
the words bump into each other. To make speech
flow smoothly the way we pronounce the end
and beginning of some words can change
depending on the sounds at the beginning and
end of those words.

These

changes are described as features of


connected speech.

How this affects native and nonnative speakers


As

native speakers, we have various devices for dealing with


indistinct utterances caused by connected speech. We take
account of the context, we assume we hear words with which we
are familiar within that context.
In real-life interaction, phonetically ambiguous pairs like " a new
display" / " a nudist play", are rarely a problem as we are actively
making predictions about which syntactic forms and lexical items
are likely to occur in a given situation.
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 diminuation of phonetic information at the
segmental level when they encounter normal speech." (Brown
1990.)

Importance of Studying
Connected Speech
There

is a huge difference between


what our students see printed on a page
and what we actually say in everyday
speech. Research shows that teaching
learners about connected speech can
really make a difference in terms of how
well they understand native speakers.
Equally, some ability to use these
features in their own speech will also be
likely to make students more confident
and fluent speakers.

So what is it that we do when stringing words


together that causes so many problems for
students?

ASPECTS OF
CONNECTED SPEECH

Features of connected
speech
As

a brief overview, there is a


strong tendency in English to
simplify and link words together
in the stream of speech, in order
to help the language flow
rhythmically. Some of the most
common features:

Weak forms
There

are a large number of words in English which can have a "full" form and
a "weak" form. This is because English is a stressed timed language, and in
trying to make the intervals between stressed syllables equal, to give the
phrase rhythm, we tend to swallow non-essential words. Thus, conjunctions,
pronouns, prepositions, auxiliaries and articles are often lost, causing
comprehension problems for students, particularly for those whose language
is syllable timed. Some examples of words which have weak forms are;
And
fish and chips (fishn chips)
a chair and a table (a chair n a table)
Can
She can speak Spanish better than I can (The first "can" is the weak form, the
second the full form.)
Of
A pint of beer
Thats the last of the wine!
Have
Have you finished? (weak)
Yes, I have. (full)
Should
Well, you should have told me. (Both "should" and "have" are weak here)

Weak forms
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.
a car
/e k:/
I bought a car
/a b:t k:/

Weak form are commonly used


words
Prepositions
Auxiliary

verbs
Conjunctions

Strong form
Prepositio
ns
to
for
from
into
of
as
at

Weak form

Auxiliary
verbs

are
was
were
would
could
should
can
must

Others
and
but
than
that
you
your
her
a
an
the

Weak=unstressed
In the following sentences the underlined
words are stressed and so would be
pronounced using the strong form:
I do like chocolate.

She drove to Las Vegas, not from Las


Vegas.

We were surprised when she told us her


secret. (stress on were for emphasis)

EXAMPLES
1-

Betcha for
( I ) bet you as in Betcha cant
catch me.
2-

Gotcha for
( I ve ) got you as in Gotcha at
last

Look at this phrase:


I went to the hotel and
booked a room for two
nights for my father and
his best friend.

What are the most important


words?

I went to the hotel and


booked a room for two
nights for my father and his
best friend.

If we eliminate the other words can


we still understand the message?

went
room
father

hotel
booked
two nights
best friend.

Lets look at the phrase transcribed:

/a

went t h tel n bkt

ru:m

f tu: nats f ma f:r

n
hz

best frend/

Learners

must come to not only recognise and


cope with the weak forms they hear,
but also to use them themselves when
speaking English. If they do not their language
will sound unnatural and over formalised, with
too many stressed forms making it difficult for
the listener to identify the points of focus.
This, the degree to which connected speech
contributes towards "naturalness" or
"intelligibility", is a useful starting point from
which to measure the value to students of the
different features of connected speech.

Working on weak forms


Here

are some ways in which we can attempt


to help our students with weak forms.
How many words do you hear?
Play a short dialogue, or a group of
sentences, and ask students to listen and
write down the number of words they hear.
Go over each phrase to check whether they
could identify all the words and then to see if
they can accurately produce what they
heard. Contrast the weak or natural version
with the full version, pointing out that the full
version is often more difficult to pronounce.

nnatural

speech
Activities built around "unnatural speech" are an enjoyable
way of working on weak forms and rhythm. To obtain
"unnatural speech", record someone reading a sentence as
if it were just a list of words. A good way of doing this is to
put the words onto flash cards, and to reveal one at a time,
so the reader gives each word its full pronunciation.
When you have a few sentences, play them several times
to the students, who should then work in pairs to try to
make the speech more natural sounding. They can then
either use graphics to show the points they would change,
or take turns reading out their different versions, or record
themselves using a more natural pronunciation. Conduct a
general feedback session at the end of the activity,
discussing reasons for the changes the groups have made.

Integrating

Integrate pronunciation into vocabulary work,


practising, for example, the weak form in phrases with
"of" (a loaf of bread, a cup of coffee, a can of coke).
Integrate weak forms into grammar work. If practising
"going to" for example, the teacher can write on the
board examples such as:
Go on holiday
Earn more money
Buy a car
Ask

different students to read these phrases as a


sentence with "going to". Listen for and highlight the
weak form of "to" before the consonant sounds, and
the "full" form of "to" with the linking "w" sound before
the vowel.

Elision

Elision is very simply the omission of certain sounds in certain


contexts. The most important occurrences of this phenomenon
regard:

1 Alveolar consonants /t/ and /d/ when sandwiched between two


consonants

The next day.

/ neks de/

The last car

/ l:s k:/

Hold the dog!

/hl dg/

Send Frank a card.

/sen frk k:d/

Africates / t / & / d /

This can also take place within affricates /t/


and /d/ when preceded by a consonant, e.g.

lunchtime
/lnttam/
becomes
/
lntam/

strange days /strenddez/


dez/

/stren

Elision of not

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./a kn spi:k/


/

- I cant speak /a k:n(t) spi:k/ /


/

There is a tendency for vowels in unstressed


syllables to shift towards the schwa (central
position)

Assimilation

This

is when the sound at the end of one


word changes to make it easier to say
the next word. For example:
ten boys sounds like tem boys (the
/n/ sound changes to the bilabial /m/ to
make it easier to transition to the also
bilabial /b/)
Incidentally bilabial just means two lips
together, which is a good example of the
kind of jargon that puts people off!

Regressive

assimilation:
The phoneme that comes first is affected by
the one that comes after it.
Example:
This year / ij ji /,
bright color /braik kal/
light blue /laip blu/.

Progressive

assimilation:
The phoneme that comes first affects the one
that comes after it.
Example:
those year / ji

Assimilation of place of
articulation

Assimilation of place of
articulation

Assimilation of place of
articulation

Assimilation of place of
articulation

Assimilation of manner
Only regressive assimilation of alveolar
consonant

Note: // follow a plosive or nasal at the end of a


preceding word
Eg: get them /get m/ /gettm/
in the
/in /
/inn/

Assimilation of voice
Only regressive assimilation of voice

eg: I like that black dog


/ ai laik t blk dg/

/ ai laig d blg dg/

Catenation
This

is when the last consonant


of the first word is joined to the
first vowel of the next word. This
is very very common in English,
and can be very confusing for
students. For example:
an apple sounds like a napple
(Teacher, what is a napple?)

Elision
Elision means that you lose a
sound in the middle of a
consonant cluster, sometimes
from the middle of a word. E.g.
sandwich becomes sanwich.
Or from the end of a word. For
example:
fish and chips fishnchips

Rules of elision

Rules of elision
c. Avoidance of complex
consonant cluster:

d. Loss of /v/ in of before


consonant
Example:

Intrusion
This

is when an extra sound intrudes. There are


three sounds that often do this /r/ /j/ and /w/
E.g. go on sounds like gowon
I agree sounds like aiyagree
Law and order sounds like lawrunorder
[I probably should have used a phonemic
keyboard!]
If you want to discover more about features of
connected speech- and I think its fascinating
stuff, theres a list of useful books at the end of
the post, but now lets look at some activities to
help raise awareness and encourage more
natural sounding speech.

4. Linking
Linking is the phenomenon where words or sounds are linked
together. There are 5 basic rules of linking.
Rules of linking:

Rules of linking

4. Linking
* Note: Sometimes listeners have
ambiguity in meaning with other
words.
Example:
/maitrein/:
might rain

my train

or

/aiskri:m/:
scream

Ice cream

or

Further reading
Further

reading
Sound Foundations by Adrian
Underhill
Pronunciation by Dalton and
Seidlholfer
How to Teach Pronunciation by
Gerald Kelly
Teaching English Pronunciation
by Joanne Kenworthy