The following chapter examines the influence of the assimilation of voicing, common in the Czech and Slovak languages, on the speech of Czech and Slovak speakers of English.
Assimilation of voicing is a process in which the pronunciation of a phoneme is changed or adapted to a neighbouring sound, i.e. a phoneme loses or gains its voicedness according to the character of a preceding or a following phoneme in order to facilitate the process of articulation (Bázlik & Miškovičová, 2012, p. 110). In Czech, the only groups of phonemes which can be realized in pronunciation together are those which share voicedness – they are all either voiced or voiceless (Krčmová, 1996, p. 130). The most common type of assimilation in the Czech language is the regressive assimilation (Skarnitzl & Šturm, 2014, p. 201). In this type of assimilation, the pronunciation of the first phoneme is adapted to that of the second phoneme (Vachek, 1973, p. 64). The assimilation of voicing may appear across morpheme boundaries, within morpheme boundaries, or across word boundaries. The following words or pairs of words contain phonemes which assimilate under the influence of the following phoneme; a voiced phoneme changes to its voiceless counterpart or a voiceless phoneme changes to its voiced counterpart: kresba (drawing) [krɛsba], rozkolísat (to swing) [roskoliːsat], zpěv (singing) [spjɛf], sbírat (collect) [zbiːrat], vstoupit (enter) [fstoʊ̯pɪt], pod stromem (under a tree) [pot stromɛm], tak hodný (so nice) [tag hodniː].
Regressive assimilation, either from a voiced phoneme to a voiceless phoneme or the other way around, occurs in Slovak as well. It may either be across morpheme boundaries, within morpheme boundaries, or word boundaries, and the assimilation may affect more than one phoneme: blízko (nearby) [bliːsko], hladkať (to stroke) [hlatkac], vták (bird) [ftaːk], vtedy (then) [ftɛdɪ], z tábora (from a camp) [s taːbora], dub kvitne (an oak is in bloom) [dʊp kvɪtnɛ], dážď pad (rain is falling) [daːʃc padaː] (Bázlik & Miškovičová, 2012, p. 11).
Students are accustomed to the assimilation process in their mother tongue; therefore, they tend to apply it in the English pronunciation as well. Most common mistakes of such incorrect use include words such as dustbin [dʌstbɪn], pronounced incorrectly as [dʌzdbɪn], making the consonantal cluster /st/ assimilate under the influence of /b/, nice day [naɪs deɪ], incorrectly realized as [naɪz deɪ], where final [s] of nice assimilates to /d/, great book [ɡreɪt bʊk], the incorrect pronunciation of which, realized as [ɡreɪd bʊk], may lead to confusion with the words grade book [ɡreɪd bʊk] (Melen, 2010, pp. 31-32; Bázlik & Miškovičová, 2012, p. 111). The sentence I like that black dog, correctly pronounced as[aɪ laɪk ðət blæk dɒɡ], contains many places where Czech and Slovak speakers make mistakes under the influence of regressive assimilation: they change the final /k/ of like to /g/, final /t/ of that to /d/ and the final /k/ of black to /g/, pronouncing the whole sentence as [aɪ laɪg ðəd blæg dɒɡ] (Roach, 2009, p. 112).
A type of fixed progressive assimilation of voicing occurs in the suffix –s when a noun is plural, a verb is in the third person singular form, or a word carries possessive suffix –s, and in the suffix of the past participle -ed (Roach, 2009, p. 112). Thus, the pronunciation may vary from [s] to [z] in suffix -s, and from [t] to [d] in suffix -ed. The suffix will be pronounced as [s] when the preceding consonant is fortis (voiceless), and as [z] when the preceding phoneme is a lenis (voiced) consonant or a vowel (Roach, 2009, p. 112). The words such as cats [kæts], jumps [dʒʌmps], Jack’s [dʒæks] keep their final consonantal clusters voiceless, while the –s suffix in the words dogs [dɒɡz], runs [rʌnz], David’s [deɪvədz], plays [pleɪz] changes to [z] (Roach, 2009, p. 112). The pronunciation of the suffix –ed depends on the preceding phoneme as well. It is pronounced as [t] if the preceding phoneme is a fortis consonant, as in worked [wɜːkt], as [d] if a preceding phoneme is any other consonant or a vowel, as in buzzed [bʌzd] and played [pleɪd], and as [ɪd] if a word’s final phoneme is /t/ or /d/, such as in wanted [wɒntɪd] and needed [niːdɪd] (Collins & Mees, 2013, p. 28). Melen (2010) claims that the issue of the suffixes –s and –ed is rather a concept of grammar; the pronunciation of a word should not be changed by adding suffixes –s or -ed. Thus, the pronunciation of the suffix –s as [z] and the suffix –ed as either [t] or [d] is not assimilation but rather adaptation of the suffix to the pronunciation of the word, so that the duration of vowel and character of the consonant are preserved (p. 32).
Linking of neighbouring words in pronunciation is a problematic issue for many Czech and Slovak speakers of English. In the standard Czech and Slovak languages, the neighbouring words are usually pronounced separately (they do not flow into each other as in English), or the articulation is weaker at the place of their contact (Melen, 2010, p. 49). The beginning of a word may be identified according to the word stress, which is usually on the first syllable, the situation in English is more complex as the word stress does not have to necessarily be on the first syllable and it is therefore harder to recognize the end of one word and the beginning of another (Bázlik & Miškovičová, 2012, p. 125).
If a following word begins with a vowel, it is usually pronounced with a glottal stop in Czech and Slovak pronunciation (Melen, 2010, p. 49; Kráľ, 1984, p. 65). Glottal stop or glottal plosive is a sharp beginning of a vowel realized by firm closure of vocal folds so that the air does not pass between them (Roach, 2009, p. 24). It is marked by the symbol [ʔ] in transcription. The English pronunciation is characterized by linking neighbouring words, especially when the latter begins with a vowel. The final consonant is then continuously linked with the initial vowel of the following word: find it, had a, some of, sums of, lying around, not at all (Melen, 2010, p. 49).
It is also worth drawing attention to the linking of words ending in [r]. The phoneme /r/ is not pronounced in the Received Pronunciation accent but if a following word begins with a vowel, it is pronounced and linked to the neighbouring word, such as in the words far off, more of, here are, four eggs (Melen, 2010, p. 49).
When a word ending in vowels /ʊ/ or /u:/, including the diphthongs /əʊ/ and /aʊ/, is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, the transition of the articulators from one position to another creates a weak sound [w] which results from the transition from strongly labialized /ʊ/ to another vowel, as for instance in the words who it, how old, how are, know us (Melen, 2010, p. 50).
When linking two words the first of which ends in the phoneme /ɪ/ and the second one begins with a vowel, the transition of the articulators between the two words creates a weak sound [j] in the pronunciation, such as in the words we are, we often, somebody else, Lucy and I (Melen, 2010, p. 50).