5 Features of Connected Speech

connected speech
A look at assimilation, elision, delayed plosion, catenation and intrusion in 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”?

Keith Taylor
Keith is the co-founder of Eslbase. He has been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years, in Indonesia, Australia, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and now in the UK.

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Comments

  1. Thanks a lot, easy and helpful!

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

    Reply
  3. Very good material about connected speech,

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

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  7. This is incredibly helpful not only to learners but also teachers as well. Special thanks.

    Reply
  8. Thanks very much.
    But a doubt.
    Where does the /r/ sound intrude after “media” as mentioned.
    Could you help?

    Reply
    • Hi

      The /r/ sound intrudes between the two words “media” and “event”, so you hear something like this:

      “media-r-event”

      Hope that helps.

      Reply
      • I do not hear it!

        Reply
        • Are you a native English speaker?

          Reply
  9. Do you have a suggested lesson plan for teaching this? I’m currently teaching listening skills and this is really helpful to raise the awareness in students. For intrusion, for example, I haven’t been able to find exactly the rules of when to use /r/, /w/, /j/. I have seen some examples, but it seems like there’s no rule around this? I’m sure I’m wrong. Can anybody help?

    Reply
    • /j/ occurs when connecting /i/ to other vowels. That’s why we pronounce ‘the’ with /i/ when connecting to a vowel (e.g. ‘the air’). Note that several diphthongs end in /i/ and connect accordingly. /w/ occurs whenever we connect /u/ to a vowel, which is why we pronounce ‘to’ /tu/ before vowels (we generally use a schwa before consonants). Note that diphthongs /əʊ/ and /aʊ/ end in /u/ (more or less) and connect accordingly. All other vowel sounds connect with /r/.

      Note that most words that end in a vowel sound (if we’re being non-rhotic) are *spelt* ending in the letter ‘r’ (e.g. ‘car’ /kɑː/), which is why students generally find this quite intuitive. Students get confused with words like ‘law’, which end in a vowel (not /i/ or /u/) but aren’t *spelt* ending in the letter ‘r’. The issue here is that students tend to be overly concerned with spelling, to the detriment of their pronunciation.

      Reply
  10. Could you please tell me where to find tracks with examples of elision and assimilation

    Reply
    • You could try searching on Youtube – there are quite a few videos about elision and assimilation which contain spoken examples.

      Reply
  11. It’s so good, thank you.

    Reply
  12. Hello, can I have a source of the topic?

    Reply
    • Hi Radwan, do you mean the author and publishing date?

      Reply
  13. Who’s the author?

    Reply
    • Hi, the author of this article is Keith Taylor

      Reply
  14. Enlightening

    Reply
  15. Hi, the r-intrusion happens in British English. It is viewed substandard in general (standard) American English. In American English, /j/ intrusion happens between two high vowels, and /w/ intrusion happens between two low vowels. You might want to refer to my video for details: https://youtu.be/CSTVOlnixkI.

    Reply
  16. This is helpful. I really appreciate this effort.

    Reply
  17. Thank you very much!! this is very helpful!

    Reply

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