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Reduction of Vowels and Consonants in Connected Speech

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2014 15 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Pädagogik, Sprachwissenschaft


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Patterns of Structure Simplification
2.1. Weak Forms of Function Words

3. Vowel Reduction

4. Elision
4.1. Elision of Vowels
4.2. Elision of Consonants

5. Assimilation
5.1. Assimilation of place

6. Liaison
6.1. Linking /r/ and the Intrusive /r/
6.2. Linking /j/ and /w/ and the Intrusive /j/ and /w/

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In connected speech, speakers of all languages typically try to articulate in the most efficient manner. Thus, they reduce any articulatory gesture that is not necessary for the understanding of the message and several simplification processes take place. These processes systematically cause changes in the segmental structure of words in relation to their citation form. As a result, the realization of words in connected speech differs a lot from the pronunciation of the words’ citation form.

Even though native speakers are unaware of the simplification processes that naturally occur in connected speech and may even deny making them, the structure simplification that occurs in the English language is well documented in linguistic literature (Brown 1979, Giegerich 1998, Gimson 2001). Based on this literature, the paper will focus on the question which simplification processes occur in English and how vowels and consonants are reduced and modified in connected speech.

The structure simplification of segments in fluent speech is depended on phonetic, phonological, prosodic, grammatical, and discourse patterns of the language. As the structure simplification of function words is strongly connected to some of these factors, the weak form of function words and the most important factors of structure simplification will shortly be presented in the first part.

In connected speech segments lose their phonological information through different types of simplification processes that affect speech production. These are vowel reduction, elision of vowels and consonants, assimilation of consonants and liaison. All of these processes will be explained in detail and with many examples. In the end, the most important findings of the paper will be summarized.

2. Patterns of Structure Simplification

Structure simplification occurs more often in informal and fast speech than in formal and slow speech (Giegerich 1998: 286). Besides that, there are a lot of phonetic, phonological, prosodic, grammatical, and discourse factors that all contribute to the structure simplification in connected speech.[1]

Stress and rhythm patterns of the English language as well as the tempo of speech have a great affect on simplification processes. As English is a stressed-timed language, the intervals between stressed syllables are isochronous. So, the intervals are nearly equal in time (Giegerich 1998: 258). According to Giegerich, the isochronous feet of the English language lead to an acceleration of the speech tempo and thereby weak secondary stresses are often dropped (1998: 286).

Moreover, it is quite common in connected speech that simplification processes affect unstressed words. As speakers always try to facilitate the comprehension for the listener, they stress words that are essential for the intelligibility of an utterance and drop the stress of words that are not that important. Familiarity and discourse function therefore also affect the realization of words in connected speech. Thus, words that provide new information are less likely to be reduced than words that relate to given information (Fowler and Housum 1987). Additionally, high-frequency words and phrases are more often subject of structure simplification than low-frequency words (Bybee 2002).

2.1. Weak Forms of Function Words

Function words like pronouns, auxiliary verbs, conjunctions, articles or prepositions can either be weak or strong depending on the context (Kreidler 2004: 223). When function words are not essential for the intelligibility of an utterance, they are weak[2] and unstressed (Brown 1979: 78). As function words often carry very little meaning themselves, their vowels regularly tend to be reduced to schwa, as it can be seen in (1).[3]

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3. Vowel Reduction

Giegerich states that vowels in non-foot-initial positions are schwa, whereas vowels in foot-initial positions have specifications like high/low or front/back (1998: 285). This phonotactic constraint not only works in citation forms. In connected speech schwa can occur in positions that are restricted to vowels in the corresponding citation forms. Hence, the vowel is reduced to a schwa in connected speech and thereby the syllable loses the stress. Giegerich therefore argues that “a syllable that is stressed in a citation form may be unstressed in connected speech” (1998: 285). In every example of (2), the syllables have secondary stress and full vowels in the citation forms, whereas in connected speech the syllables lose their secondary stress and the vowels are reduced to a schwa. Thus, the structure simplification and the loss of structure take place on two different levels. On the one hand there is “the loss of the suprasegmental structure” and on the other hand “the loss of distinctive features in the segmental representation of the vowel” (Giegerich 1998: 286).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

4. Elision

Elision is the process of reduction in connected speech that results in the loss of segments. So a phoneme which would be pronounced in its citation form may be elided in connected speech. As Rogerson-Revell points out, phonemes are most likely to be lost in unstressed syllables (2011: 166).

4.1. Elision of Vowels

According to Gimson, there are two different types of vowel-elision, which are the “allophonic variation” and the “phonemic elision” (2001: 287). In the allophonic variation the second element of the diphthong is elided. This type of elision occurs when one syllable ends with a diphthong and the next one starts with a vowel, as it can be seen in (3).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The phonemic elision deals with the elision of schwa. As it has been explained above, vowels are often reduced to a schwa in unstressed initial or medial syllables (4a), but in connected speech vowels may not only be reduced but completely lost. So, even the schwa is elided. It is very common in casual speech that the elision of schwa occurs before sonorant consonants. Here the syllabic consonants occupy the peak of the syllable (4b). The syllable is maintained because the sonorant is syllabic itself (Giegerich 1998: 287-288). However, in faster speech the reduction even has an effect on the syllable and sonorant consonants lose their syllabicity.[4] As it can be seen in (4c) unstressed vowels before obstruents are elided and many structures remain that violate the phonotactic constraints of the citation forms (Giegerich 1998:288). Hence, as Giegerich points out, the onset [kn] like in canone is impossible in citation forms and also the syllabic [s̩] of solicitor is not possible (1998: 288).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

4.2. Elision of Consonants

In connected speech the elision of consonants can occur in weak (5) and strong (6) forms and it often results in the simplification of consonant clusters (Giegerich 1998:288). Typically, the consonant which is in the middle of the consonant cluster is reduced (Rogerson-Revell 2011: 166). So for example, in the utterance come and see the /d/ of the cluster /nds/ is elided.


[1] Shockey provides a detailed summary of the patterns that determine structure simplification (2003: 14-19).

[2] That means that the function word is in a medial or final position of an utterance.

[3] In example (1) some words not only show the reduction of vowels but also the phenomenon of elision which will be explained later on. Thus, the vowel in the function word and is not only reduced but completely lost and the consonant ð in the word them is also lost.

[4] The pronunciation of federal in column (4c) is an exception (Giegerich 1998: 288).


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
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Institution / Hochschule
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
reduction vowels consonants connected speech



Titel: Reduction of Vowels and Consonants in Connected Speech