It is a well-known fact that when we speak naturally we fail to pronounce all the phonemes and syllables that would be predicted if we said each separate word slowly and carefully. I have been reading Wikipedia’s articles on Elision and related topics, and I’ve been getting confused. This is an area that has always seemed vague and ill-defined, and Wikipedia has a lot of articles that overlap each other and don’t seem coordinated. In particular, I have problems with an unusual article called Relaxed pronunciation. The title bothers me: I have never come across the term in any work on phonetics or pronunciation teaching, and I suspect that the person who wrote the article just made it up. Wikipedia articles are supposed to be on recognized topics, and to contains references to published literature, but this article has none. Lots of writers use terms like ‘casual speech’ (e.g. Linda Shockey in Sound Patterns of Spoken English) or ‘spontaneous speech’ (e.g. Richard Cauldwell’s Phonology for Listening); we talk about “connected speech phenomena”. These aspects of speech are tremendously important and need careful analysis and discussion.
If you look at the “Relaxed speech” article, you will see that it begins with a list of American English casual-speech forms of some common words and phrases, with the normal orthography, an IPA transcription of the reduced form and a respelling to indicate the pronunciation. Some are straightforward, such as
kind of: [ˈkaɪɾ̃ə], kinda
don't you: [ˈdoʊntʃə], doncha
while others strike me as odd:
fixing to: "finna"
I'm going to: [ˈaɪmə], "I'mma" or [ˈɑmənə], "Ah-muhnuh"
A few cases of single words are listed among the phrases:
suppose: [spoʊz] s'pose
library: [ˈlaɪbɹi], [ˈlaɪˌbɛɹi]
After the American English examples, the article becomes a bit of a free-for-all where other contributors have added examples of what they know about other languages. None seems to have taken the trouble to look up a handbook on the pronunciation of the language they are writing about. It all has a rather anecdotal feel.
The Dutch and German examples are given only in a respelling form. There are half a dozen Russian examples, given with IPA transcription, and something about contracted forms in Russian poetry with an example that I can’t understand. French gets very little coverage, with notes about the pronunciations of ‘te’ and ‘"Qu'est-ce que”; however, there is a more detailed analysis (with IPA) of “il ne savait peut-être plus ce qu'il faisait”. The section on Spanish is brief and not very clear: we get some notes about the verb ‘estar’, the pronunciation of ‘para’ and some discussion of the lenition of intervocalic /d/ into an approximant. Many of the assertions in this section have been challenged with the comment “citation needed”. Portuguese gets quite a lot of examples (I think these are all European Portuguese, though we are not told). Confusingly, the reduced form is often given to left of the “=” sign, for example
home = homem (man)
As far as I know, ‘homem’ is not pronounced with a final /m/ anyway, so it’s not clear what exactly the change is. The limitations of using spelling to indicate pronunciation in detail can be seen in examples of words beginning with ‘qu’, as in
que + o = q'o
The section on Japanese is very brief, and does not use IPA. For Turkish (no IPA) we get examples to illustrate one single instance, the contraction of ‘ne’ to ‘n’ before a vowel. We also get an example of vowel loss in poetry. For Hindustani there is a two-sentence explanation of how /h/ is elided in relaxed speech. The article ends with the observation that in Bengali
“it is common to change the sound of rchh to chchh or chch in normal speech. For example, করছ will be pronounced কচ্ছ or কচ্চ."
- which I find pretty opaque.
Here is a list of related Wikipedia topics (I am sure it is incomplete) that cover the field of elision, contraction etc. There is a wealth of knowledge in these articles, but there seems to be no route-map to help the reader to find their way.
- Elision (perhaps the best known heading in the phonetics and pronunciation literature). There is also a language-specific article on Elision (French)
- Syncope (not much used in works on phonetics and pronunciation, more familiar in works on metrics and versification, but it's a useful article)
- Stress and vowel reduction (particularly the section on weak forms)
- Contraction (Wikipedia lists this as Contraction (Grammar), but it seems to me to be mainly about pronunciation - and to add to the confusion there is a substantial part of English auxiliaries and contractions devoted to the same topic).
- Synalepha (which contains links to a lot of other similar processes not usually found in the phonetics literature).