Strange Spells: Allegro Speech

Chick-fil-A cows holding signs
The slogan of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain employs allegro speech. Getty Images Sport/Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Allegro speech refers to the deliberate misspellings, respellings, or non-standard alternative spellings of words.

(1) In orthography, allegro speech is the deliberate misspelling, respelling, or non-standard alternative spelling of words, usually with the purpose of conveying rapid or informal speech patterns.

(2) In phonology and prosody, allegro speech refers to speech that's delivered at a rapid speed (or tempo).

Examples and Observations (Definition #1)

  • "'It's weird. I don't know where these people are coming from. I dunno.'

    "'I dunno where you're comin from,' Calvin said angrily.

    "'I dunno where I'm coming from either,' Francis said. 'I don't know where my head is.'"
    (Joseph Wambaugh, The Choirboys. Delacorte Press, 1975)
  • "Love Is Alright Tonite"
    (title of a song by Rick Springfield 1982)
  • "Cum On Feel the Noize"
    (title of a song by Slade, 1973)
  • "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night"
    (title of a song by Prince, 1987)
  • "Uncle Sam and His Boys,
    What will he do with them?
    Uncle Sam he got a' thinkin'
    And a' wonderin' what to do
    With them thar naughty boys of his
    They call the Fenian crew."
    ("Uncle Sam and His Boys")
  • Allegro Speech in Informal Messages
    "Often words are misspelled—or respelled, as it's sometimes called when it is done intentionally—not only in informal email messages but in more public, 'edited' spaces. These respellings, such as in the following examples, also known as allegro speech, indicate informality.
    gonna, dunno, wanna
    nite, lite, thru
    The spellings of these words are all in a state of transition with respect to their acceptability as standard spellings. At this time, most people view them as nonstandard but intentional spellings; thus they differ from simple misspellings. However, this usage is restricted mostly to informal writing or print situations. . . . The variations usually coexist for some time before one becomes dominant and the other drops out. For example, the use of nite remains fairly restricted right now; its use may increase over time, and eventually the spelling night could drop out of the language."
    (Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck, Linguistics for Everyone. Wadsworth, 2010)
  • Edited Allegro Speech
    - "[I]t is not just the nonstandard aspects of language that are most often targeted for deletion; informally and traditionally termed 'nonlinguistic' elements in speech, or aspects of allegro speech, are also prey to editorial red pens. . . . For some reason, few historians see this editorial practice as a contradiction of their recognizing the interview as interactive and conversational. More typical airbrushing is exemplified by the following passage from the United States National Park Services publication on oral history collections:
    Omit the interviewer's supportive sounds such as 'I see,' 'Uh-huh,' 'Yes,' etc., and most crutch words and phrases such as 'you know,' 'so to speak,' etc., unless they add meaning or serve to convey the flavor of the speech patterns. Again, retain if the purpose is tape-editing.
    These directions would be more helpful if we had some idea of what oral historians consider 'meaning' to be. Unfortunately we do not. . . .

    "For some reason, oral historians consider tampering with word spelling (to reflect phonetic differences) to be most offensive:
    Educated interviewers who say yeah will insist on altering the transcript word to yes. They are sorely displeased when transcripts show them saying gonna or talkin' and would prefer to see their spoken words reproduced as they would write them down. (Ritchie 1995:48)
    The above statement basically advises transcribers to airbrush out the speech cues that suggest informality and write in the full forms for any traces of allegro speech."
    (Irma Taavitsainen, Gunnel Melchers, and Päivi Pahta, Writing in Nonstandard English. John Benjamins, 1999)

    - "Speech is transcribed in lines to capture intonation contours. . . . For example, I used 'gonna' and 'em' for the standard orthographic 'going to' and 'him' when speakers' utterances approximated the pronunciation associated with these 'allegro speech' representations. I did so to be more faithful to the intonation contours without sacrificing easy intelligibility—not, as Preston (1985:328) argues, to indicate slangy or not carefully monitored speech."
    (Anita Puckett, "Note on Transcription." Seldom Ask, Never Tell: Labor and Discourse in Appalachia. Oxford University Press, 2000)