Language Matters : Connected Speech - Suggested Answers


1. Catenation : Two different types of catenation occur in English and both are exemplified in the sentence below. What are they? Write the sentence in phonemic script, indicating where catenation would occur:  

Go and see if "Law and Order" is still on TV or if it's already over.

/gəʊ w  ən siː j ɪf lɔː r ən ɔː r ɪz stɪl ɒn ti: vi: j ɔː r  ɪf ɪts ɔːlredɪ j əʊvə/

a)   Consonant Vowel Catenation – occurs when a syllable finishes with a consonant sound and the next starts with a vowel sound. Examples underlined above

b)   Vowel-Vowel liaison – occurs when a syllable finishes with a vowel sound and the next starts with a vowel sound. The two are joined by an “intrusive” consonant – one of the approximants /j/, /w/ and  /r/. Seven examples indicated above.


2. Elision: How many examples of elision might occur in the following sentence if spoken at normal conversational speed?   I thought we might have smoked salmon first, then roast pork and various different vegetables, and finish it all off with chocolate mousse and cream.

Transcribe the sentence in its citation form first and then again, deleting any phonemes you think might not be pronounced.


In its citation form in a non-rhotic accent, the sentence would be :

/ aɪ θɔːt wiː maɪt hæv sməʊkt sæmən fɜ:st ðen rəʊst pɔːk ænd veəriːjəs dɪfərent veʤətəblz ænd fɪnɪ∫ ɪt ɔːl ɒf wɪð ʧɒkələt muːs ænd kriːm/


In connected speech it would become :

/ aɪ θɔː wɪ maɪt æv sməʊk sæmən fɜːs ðen rəʊs pɔːk n veəriːjəs dɪfren veʤtəblz n fɪnɪ∫ ɪt ɔːl ɒf wɪð ʧɒklət muːs n kriːm /


There are three  frequently encountered  types of elision here :

a) elision of /t/ - up to six possible occurrences: see the transcriptions of thought, smoked, first, roast, different. (Alternatively the /t/ might be transformed to a glottal stop rather than disappearing all together, including before vowels – eg might, it.) Both /t/ and /d/ (here twice elided in "and") are frequently elided when they occur at the end of a syllable and are not followed by a vowel at the beginning of the next.

b) Elision of /h/ (at the beginning of the syllable - but that's the only position in which it ever occurs in English) - have

c) Elision of the vowel in an unstressed syllable – see the transcription of different, vegetables, chocolate. Again, very common. Other examples : memory, library, temporary, secretary, family, camera, buttoning - where the vowel in bold would often be elided.


In addition, the vowel sound in "and" would either be weakened to a schwa, or elided all together. This, together with the elision of /d/ leaves just the syllabic consonant [n̩] (note the diacritic under the symbol which indicates a syllabic consonant).


3. Assimilation


1.   Transcribe the following phrases in phonemic script in their citation form, and then comment on and transcribe the instances of assimilation.

a) a white bag

b) a pet guinea pig

c) he's in Peru

d) he's in Korea


The more similar sounds are to each other, the easier they are to pronounce consecutively - and conversely, the more difference there is between them the harder they are to pronounce consecutively. They can be similar or different in three ways : voicing, place of articulation or manner of articulation.

Take for example /b/ and /m/ and /k/ and /m/.

/b/ = voiced bilabial plosive

/m/ = voiced bilabial nasal

/k/ = unvoiced velar plosive

/b/ and /m/ therefore share two out of the three characteristics, and are more similar than /k/ and /m/ which are different in all three respects. Try saying /mb/ and /mk/ - the latter takes more muscular effort (= is more difficult to pronounce) because you have to completely change the position of your tongue.

Assimilation (literally, making more similar) occurs when two phonemes which are very different are juxtaposed like this. One will change to become more similar to the other.

So, in the examples given :


a) a white bag

Citation form : /ə waɪt bæg/     Connected speech : /ə waɪp bæg/ 

/t/ = unvoiced alveolar plosive

/b/ = voiced bilabial plosive

/p/ = unvoiced bilabial plosive


/t/ shares only one characteristic with /b/ whereas /p/ shares two. the /t/ therefore asimilates to /p/ to make pronunciation easier. The change affects the first sound (/t/ becomes /p/) and is therefore regressive (the second sound influences the first) and the change is one of place of articulation (the alveolar /t/ becomes a bilabial /p/). This is therefore described as regressive assimilation of place.

Regressive assimilation of place occurs in examples b-d too.

b) a pet guinea pig
Citation form :  /ə pet gɪniː pɪg/     Connected speech :/ə pek gɪniː pɪg/   

/t/ = unvoiced alveolar plosive

/g/ = voiced velar plosive

/k/ = unvoiced velar plosive

Alveolar /t/ assimilates to velar /k/ before velar /g/

c) he's in Peru

 Citation form : /hiːz ɪn pəruː/   Connected speech : /hiːz ɪm pəruː/

/n/ = voiced alveolar nasal

/p/ = unvoiced bilabial plosive

/m/ = voiced bilabial nasal

Alveolar /n/ changes to bilabial /m/ before bilabial /p/


d) he's in Korea

Citation form : /hiːz ɪn kəriːjə/    Connected speech :  /hiːz ɪŋ kəriːjə/

/n/ = voiced alveolar nasal

/k/ = unvoiced velar plosive

/ŋ/ = voiced velar nasal

Alveolar /n/ changes to velar /ŋ/ before velar /k/

2.   The highlighted words in the  following two examples show a different type of assimilation from those in examples a-d. Why? Choose one of the six underlined examples, transcribe the word(s) in their citation form, then  and comment on and transcribe the changes caused by assimilation.

a) I have to go, but he has to stay.

b) Cats and dogs mewed and barked.

  • Citation forms :  /hæv tuː/  /hæz tuː/ 
  • Connected speech :  /hæf tə/  /hæs tə/ 


/v/ = voiced labiodental fricative

/t/ = unvoiced alveolar plosive

/f/ = unvoiced labiodental fricative


/z/ = voiced alveolar fricative

/t/ = unvoiced alveolar plosive

/s/ = unvoiced alveolar fricative


The /v/ and the /s/ both assimilate to the /t/ sound. But this time, what becomes the same is not the place but the voicing. This is therefore regressive assimilation of voicing.

Notice that again, when –s and -ed suffixes are pronounced, they change in voicing. In Cats and dogs mewed and barked, look at the pronunciation of the suffix:

/kæts/          /dɒgz/        /mjuːd/         bɑːkt/ 


          /s/ = unvoiced alveolar fricative     /z/ = voiced alveolar fricative

          /d/ = voiced alveolar plosive          /t/ = unvoiced alveolar plosive


But this time it is the second consonant that changes to assimilate to the first rather than vice versa :

§    /t/ is unvoiced so followed by the unvoiced /s/

§    /g/ is voiced so followed by the voiced /z/

§    the vowel /u:/ is voiced so followed by the voiced /d/

§    /k/ is unvoiced so followed by the unvoiced /t/.

This is therefore progressive assimilation of voicing.



4. Putting it all together : Comment on, and illustrate in phonemic script, the features of connected speech that might occur in the following sentence: What do you want me to do about Tom's e-mail?

Then send the points you made about one (and only one, please) of the following : What do  /  do you  /  want me  /  to do about  /  about Tom’s  /  Tom’s email.
Choose one that illustrates a different feature to the one you chose to comment on in parts 1-3 above

§  What do   - possible elision of /t/ or reduction to a glottal stop (consonant lenition); possible vowel reduction of /u:/ to schwa : /wɒ də/ or /wɒʔ də/

§  do you  - possible yod coalescence  - the /d j/ sequence is replaced by /ʤ/;  possible vowel reduction of /u:/ to schwa : /ʤə/

  • want me – assimilation : alveolar /t/ changes to bilabial /p/ before  bilabial /m/, and alveolar /n/ than changes to bilabial /m/ before bilabial /p/: possible vowel reduction of /i:/ to / ɪ/: /wɒmp mɪ/  or  possible elision of /t/, followed by assimilation of /n/ to /m/ and gemination of the two /m/ sounds  /wɒmɪ/ 

§  to do about  -   possible vowel reduction of /u:/ in to to schwa; V-V liaison between the two adjacent vowels in do about, using the “intrusive consonant /w/ : /tə du:wəbaʊt/

§  about Tom’s   - probable gemination of the two adjacent /t/ sounds : /əbaʊtɒmz/

§  Tom’s email – possessive suffix pronounced as /z/ because following a voiced consonant. Probable CV catenation between the syllable final /z/ and syllable initial /i:/ :  /tɒmzi:meɪl/


Resulting in : /wɒ ʤə wɒmp mɪ tə du:wəbaʊtɒmzi:meɪl /  or the variations indicated above.