Of all the features of English pronunciation, connected speech, or the flow between words, is the most subtle and one of the least well described. Elision is a specific part of connected speech, the one which is responsible for all the sounds dropped and most of the letters that seem to serve no purpose in communications.
Elision is the disappearance of sounds in speech, generally considered to make pronouncing complex combinations easier. Of course, it only occurs in certain situations. One of the most common is one already addressed in the post on rhythm: when the vowel sound in an unstressed syllable is reduced all the way to non-existence. For example:
But English speakers also elide consonants. See these examples:
Of course, elision is most significant in (apparently) longer utterances, again making speech as quick and simple as possible. These examples also feature other kinds of connected speech, to be dealt with in another post.
Did you eat yet?
Would you give me some of that?
There are a few specific environments in which elision typically takes place, which are worth noting. Knowing these will make it both easier to understand those heavily affected utterances by native speakers, and also to sound a bit more natural in your own pronunciation.
- loss of a weak vowel after plosives /p/, /t/, /k/, e.g. police (see above) or history
- loss of a weak vowel before /n/, /l/, /r/ (to create a syllabic consonant) e.g. interesting (see above) or soccer
- avoidance of complex consonant cluster e.g. must be (see above) or
- loss of final /v/ in ‚of‘ before consonants e.g. some of that (see above) or man of steel
- contractions didn’t he (see above) or mustn’t
Watch this space for some exercises to practice both your listening comprehension and your own pronunciation with this odd feature of English in focus!