Diphthongs. Processes of connected speech

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  • Diphthongs.
    Processes of connected speech.

  • R – coloring / Rhotacization

  • Am E /З/ „sir, herd, fur”

  • The vowel does not fit the vowel chart, because it cannot be described in terms of the features high-low, front-back or rounded/unrounded. It involves another feature called rhotacization.

  • Rhotacized vowels

  • Rhotacized vowels are often called retroflex vowels.

  • In saying the vowel is rhotacized, we are describing the auditory quality of the vowel – we say what it sounds like.

  • Most speakers have the tip of the tongue raised, as in a retroflex consonant, but others keep the tip down and produce a high bunched tongue position. Both gestures produce a very similar auditory effect.

  • Rhotic accents

  • Accents that permit [r] after a vowel are called rhotic accents.

  • Rhotic accents occur in:

    • most of the North America. (except for some areas in New England and parts of the South in the US)

    • the West Country (south-west part of UK)

    • Scotland.

They were prevalend in GB in Shakespeare’s times.

  • Standard BBC English is not rhotic and has a diphthong ending in shwa, „here, there”

  • Diphthongs...

  • ...are sounds which consist of a movement or glide from one vowel to another

  • A vowel which remains constant and does not glide is called a pure vowel

  • Classification of diphthongs
    - movement of the tongue

  • There are 8 diphthongs in English. It’s the easiest to remember them is in terms of three groups:

    glide from more peripheral vowels towards the shwa /∂/

    glide from /∂/ towards a closer vowel e.g. /I/

  • CLOSING DIPHTHONGS – gliding from /∂/ towards /υ – as in „good”/

  • Classification of diphthongs
    – prominence of the vowel

  • In the 8 diphthongs above the most prominent part is the first vowel. The second vowel is very brief and transitory; sometimes it’s even difficult to determine its exact quality, e.g. /eI/ - a glide towards /I/

  • [ju] as in „cue – the most prominent vowel is the second one – many books in phonetics don’t consider it as a diphthong, but as a sequence of /j+u/

    • „pew, beauty, cue, spew, skew, also (BrE): tune, dune, Sue, Zeus, new, lieu, stew” – a lot of consonant clusters occur only before /u/; there is no /pje, kje/ etc. (Ladefoged 77)

    - a glide from one vowel to another and to the third
    - five closing diphthongs + shwa


  • ...is one of fast / connected speech processes

  • Sounds belonging to one word can cause changes to sounds belonging to another word

  • Assuming we know how a phoneme is produced in isolation, when we find the phoneme realized differently as a result of being near some other phoneme belonging to a neighboring word, we call this an instance of assimilation.

  • Assimilation varies in extent according to speaking rate and style; it’s more likely to occur in rapid, casual speech than in slow, careful speech. Sometimes the difference is barely noticable, sometimes it’s big.


  • ... affects mostly consonants;

  • _ _ _ _ Cf | Ci _ _ _ _ _

  • If Cf changes to become like Ci in some way, the assimilation is called regressive/progressive (direction of influence)

  • If Ci changes to become like Cf in some way, the assimilation is called regressive/progressive

  • In what ways can a consonant change?

  • Differences in place of articulation

  • Differences in manner of articulation

  • Differences in voicing

In parallel with this, we distinguish:

    • Assimilation of place

    • Assimilation of manner,

    • Assimilation of voicing

  • Assimilation of place

  • alveolar Cf followed by non-alveolar Ci e.g. /t/ becomes /p/ before a bilabial consonant

  • „that person”

/ðæt pЗ:s∂n/ /ðæp pЗ:s∂n/

  • „light blue”

/laIt blu:/ /laIp blu:/

  • „meat pie”

/mi:t paI/ /mi:p paI/

  • ? regressive or progressive?

  • Assimilation of place

  • Alveolar /t/ will change into dental /t/ before a dental consonant

    • „that thing” / ðæt Өiŋ/

    • „cut through” /kΛt Өru:/

  • Alveolar /t/ will change into velar /k/ before a velar consonant

    • „that case” / ðæk keIs/

    • „bright colour” /braIk kΛl∂/

  • In similar contexts /d/ /b,d, g/, and /n/ /m, n, ŋ/ but fricative alveolars behave differently:

    • Assimilation of place

  • Alveolar fricatives become palato-alveolar fricatives before palatal sounds /j, ∫/

  • /s/ /∫/

    • „this shoe” /ðI u:/

  • /z/ /”ż” as in Gigi/

    • „those years” /ðoυż jI∂z/

    • ? Regressive or progressive ?

The consonants that undergo assimilation do not dissappear

  • Assimilation of manner

  • much less noticable, only found in the most rapid speech

  • a tendency for regressive assimilation

  • the change is usually for the „easier” consonant – one which makes less obstruction to the air flow

  • Assimilation of manner

  • A plosive, a fricative or nasal

    • „that side” / ðæs saId/

    • „good night” /gυn naIt/

    • ?regressive or progressive?

  • A word-initial /ð/ follows a plosive or nasal at the end of the preceding word, it becomes identical in manner to the Cf, but with dental place of articulation

    • „in the” /In n∂/

    • „get them” /get tem/

    • „read these” /ri:d di:z/

    • ? regressive or progressive?

    • Assimilation of voice

  • Only regressive assimilation is found across word boundaries

  • If Cf is lenis („voiced”) and Ci is fortis („voiceless”), the lenis consonant has no voicing, e.g. „please stop” /z? s/ (It is not very noticable, as initial or final voiced consonants have little or no voicing anyway. )

  • When Cf is fortis (voiceless) and Ci lenis (voiced) assimilation of voice NEVER takes place, e.g. „that black dog” (/k/ doesn’t change to /g/)

  • Across-morpheme and within-morpheme assimilation

  • Across morpheme: progressive assimilation of voice for –s suffixes

    • „cats” /kæts/; „dogs” /dogz/

  • Within the morpheme: a place of articulation of a nasal is determined by the place of articulation of the following consonant, e.g. „ bump, tenth, bank, hunt” /bΛmp, tenӨ, bæŋk, hΛnt/ - it’s become a fixed phonological rule


  • ... under certain circumstances sounds disappear; a phoneme may „be realized as zero”, or „have zero realization”, or be deleted.

  • Elision is typical of rapid, casual speech

  • Gradation – a process of change in phoneme realizations by changing the speed and casualness of speech

  • ELISION - examples

  • Loss of a weak (unstressed) vowel after /p,t,k/ - aspiration takes up the whole of the middle of the syllable, e.g. „potato, tomato, perhaps, today” (transcription?)

  • Loss of a weak vowel followed by n, l, or r, which becomes syllabic, e.g. „tonight, police, correct”

    • Avoidance of complex consonant clusters, e.g. :George the Sixth’s throne”

  • In clusters of three plosives or two plosives + fricative, the middle plosive disappears, e.g. acts /æks/, scripts /skrIps/

  • Loss of final „v” in „of”/∂v/ before consonants, e.g. „lots of /∂/ them” „waste of /∂/ money”

  • Contractions of grammatical forms (often not regarded as elision, as realized in spelling) e.g.:

  • „would:” he’d /d/; Tom’d /∂d/

  • „is”: she’s /z/; duck’s /s/

  • „will”: she’ll /l/; duck’ll /l/ (! also after Cs)

  • „have”: we’ve /v/; Tom’ve /∂v/

  • „are”: (∂ after vowels, ∂r after consonants + changes in preceding vowel): you’re /jυ∂/, those are /ð∂υz ∂r/


  • linking „r” – the phoneme /r/ cannot occur in syllable-final position in RP, but when spelling suggests a final /r/ and a word beginning with a vowel follows, speakers usually pronounce /r/, e.g. :

    • „here” /hI∂/ but „here are” /hI∂r ∂/

    • „four” /fo: / but „four eggs /fo:r egz/

  • intrusive /r/ without the spelling justification:

    • „formula A” /fo; mj∂l∂r eI/

    • „media event” /mi:dI∂r ivent/


  1. Peter Ladefoged: A course in phonetics

  2. Peter Roach: English phonetics and phonology

(both in our library)

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