5 Features of Connected Speech

connected speech

In spoken discourse the boundaries between words are very often not clear-cut. Words and sounds are lost and linked together in different ways to enable us to articulate with minimal movement.

This is one of the reasons learners find spoken discourse more difficult to understand than written discourse. At higher levels it is often not a lack of vocabulary which prevents understanding, but lack of ability to deal with these features of connected speech. Native speakers are more able to use top-down processing to decide whether what they have heard is red dye or red eye.

Here are some of the more common features of connected speech:

  1. Assimilation

    Assimilation occurs when a phoneme (sound) in one word causes a change in a sound in a neighbouring word. For example, try saying the following pairs of words:

    • in Bath
    • last year
    • Hyde Park

    You’ll notice that the last sound of the first word changes in each case. The /n/ sound becomes /m/, /t/ becomes /tʃ/ and /d/ becomes /b/.

  2. Elision

    Elision is the loss of a phoneme, most commonly the last phoneme of a word, and most commonly the /t/ and /d/ sounds. Have a look at these examples:

    • left back
    • stand by
    • looked back
    • I must go

    In each case the last phoneme of the first word is elided (lost). In the most simple terms, the reason is that the time and effort required to change the mouth position from the /t/ to the /b/ sound (as in the first example) or the /t/ to the /g/ sound (as in the last example) is too great!

  3. Delayed plosion

    Our “red dye” and “red eye” is an example of this. To articulate “red dye”, we must take a very short pause before the /d/ sound. The /d/ is an example of a plosive, consonant sounds where the vocal tract stops all airflow. Other examples are /b/,/d/, /g/, /p/, /t/ and /k/. This pause before the plosive gives us the name of this feature, delayed plosion.

    Another example: the right tie (delay) – the right eye (no delay)

  4. Catenation

    In catenation the last consonant of the first word is joined to the vowel sound at the start of the second word. For example:

    • pick it up – (learners will hear something like pi ki tup)
    • what is it – (learners will hear something like wo ti zit)
  5. Intrusion

    Intrusion is what you might expect from the name – an extra sound “intrudes” into the spoken utternace. Try saying the following pairs of words:

    • media event
    • I always
    • go away

    Do you hear the /r/ sound intruding after “media”, the /j/ sound intruding after “I” and the /w/ sound intruding after “go”?

8 comments

  1. chahrazed

    Thanks a lot, easy and helpful!

  2. sadia

    thanks a lot for beautifully explaining the features of connected speech. it helps me a lot.

  3. M.Umar khan

    Very good material about connected speech,

  4. Nguissia

    Well , I just want to say that I really greatful learning connected speech from you ,thank you so much.

  5. ZAKAYO MONG'ATEKO M

    This work is really good! However, this kind of speech should be better specified if it is accepted in formal speech or it only relies on colloquial conversation.

    • Curt Ford

      Hello Zakayo,

      As a native speaker of North American English, I’d say that these are good examples of what you’ll hear in both colloquial and formal speech. Ignoring elision and assimilation, for example, could make someone’s pronunciation sound almost unnaturally precise.

  6. Cedrik

    Aren’t the delayed plosives far more likely to geminate in actual connected speech?
    Only seem to have demonstrative value, no teaching value…

    • Eslbase

      Yep, I would suggest that most of these features lend themselves better to receptive skills work, rather than actually “teaching” learners to produce them. It could lead, as Curt says in the previous comment, to unnatural or forced pronunciation.

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