Connected Speech

If you want to say something, say it here
PeopleImages / Getty Images

Connected speech is spoken language that's used in a continuous sequence, as in normal conversations. It is also called connected discourse. There is often a significant difference between the way words are pronounced in isolation and the way they are pronounced in the context of connected speech. For example, words or syllables can be clipped or run together, or their stresses can change.

Deletion of Sounds in Connected Speech

When words run together, there sometimes is the deletion of sounds or substitution of sounds. For example, look at how want to becomes wanna, going to becomes gonna, rock and roll becomes rock 'n' roll, or them becomes 'em or 'dem. These are very informal usages and wouldn't be present in formal writing but would have a place for writers crafting or capturing realistic dialogue.

Author Rachael-Anne Knight goes into details about how connected speech processes (CSP) work:

" - They occur at the edges of words, since this is where words 'meet' in sentences.
- Importantly, connected speech processes are optional....
- We can think of them affecting sounds at the phonemic level rather than the allophonic level. When /t/ or /d/ or /h/ is elided, for example, we do not find that a different allophone occurs; we simply find that the phoneme is lost altogether." ("Phonetics: A Coursebook." Cambridge University Press, 2012)

She also notes that connected speech can cause confusion or misunderstanding in listeners because of the changes that the words undergo when running together or when sounds are changed or lost.

Challenges for Non-native Speakers

Confusion about meaning can happen when words run together, especially for non-native speakers listening to native speakers talk. This doesn't apply just to learners of English. Any learner of a foreign language needs listening practice to be able to pick out individual words from spoken discourse. Native speakers take a lot of verbal shortcuts in ordinary conversation that wouldn't be present if the words were written out on a page.

For example, in Spanish, many words end in vowels, which meld together when spoken. Take the polite greeting of ¿Cómo está? (How are you?) which, when spoken, often can sound like ¿Cóm stá? with barely a pause between the words.

When speaking to someone who isn't a native speaker, enunciation (not speaking more loudly) is helpful, as is using pauses so that the listener has enough time to process all of what's being said. 

Stress Patterns in Connected Speech

In English, the stress pattern of words varies based on what's around them, and there is variation in how different speakers may pronounce the same word (for example, some words have different stress patterns in British versus American English). Author Peter Roach illustrates:

"The former case is an aspect of connected speech...: the main effect is that the stress on a final-stressed compound tends to move to a preceding syllable and change to secondary stress if the following word begins with a strongly stressed syllable. Thus...​
bad-'tempered but a bad-tempered 'teacher
half-'timbered but a half-timbered 'house
heavy-'handed but a heavy-handed 'sentence"
("English Phonetics and Phonology: A Practical Course," 4th ed. Cambridge University Press, 2009)

People writing poetry in specific meters, such iambic pentameter, have to pay attention to where the stresses fall on words in their lines in order to correctly work within the constraints of the form, such as a sonnet.