Connected Speech

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Connected speech is spoken language in a continuous sequence, as in normal conversation. 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. In connected speech, words or syllables are clipped, phrases are run together, and words are stressed differently than they would be in writing.

Deletion of Sounds in Connected Speech

One of the characteristics of connected speech is the deletion or clipping of sounds that occurs when words run together. For example, "want to" can become "wanna", "going to" can become "gonna", "rock and roll" can become "rock 'n' roll", and "them" can become "'em" or "'dem" in connected speech. These are very informal usages of common words that most often occur in casual conversation, so they would probably not be present in formal speech or writing.

Author Rachael-Anne Knight goes into detail about the mechanics of connected speech processes (CSP) in Phonetics: A Coursebook:

  • "They occur at the edges of words since this is where words 'meet' in sentences.
  • Connected speech processes are optional...
  • We can think of [connected speech processes] 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," (Knight 2012).

Knight also notes that connected speech can cause confusion or misunderstanding when words and sounds are changed or lost.

Challenges for Non-Native Speakers

Confusion about meaning in connected speech is especially common for non-native speakers listening to native speakers talk. Anyone learning a foreign language needs practice listening to it being spoken naturally, but learners of English have a difficult time picking out individual words from connected speech because words are so often slurred.

Native speakers take many verbal shortcuts in ordinary conversation that wouldn't be present in written English, and switching between written and spoken English takes getting used to when it isn't your first language.

These challenges are not exclusive to English. In Spanish, many words begin and end in vowels and these tend to meld together in speech. The polite greeting ¿Cómo está? (How are you?) often sounds like ¿Cóm stá? when spoken, with little to no pause between the words.

When speaking to someone who isn't a native speaker, enunciation is helpful. You can also help them to understand you by speaking more slowly and pausing slightly between each word.

Stress Patterns in Connected Speech

In English, the stress pattern of a word is generally influenced by its context. Because of this, even native speakers may pronounce the same word differently, as is often the case in British vs. American English. Connected speech complicates the use of stress by relocating it from one word to another.

Author Peter Roach illustrates stress in connected speech in Phonology: A Practical Course:

"An aspect of connected speech...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"
(Roach 2009).

People writing metered poetry, such as iambic pentameter in sonnets, 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. People speaking metered poetry will probably use stress however it sounds most natural in connected speech.