In some languages, every syllable is the same length. In English, it sounds very awkward to make each syllable the same length. It’s important to have contrast, some long and some short syllables.
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In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to go over why some words sound different when they’re said on their own than they do when they’re said as part of a sentence, like ‘for’, ‘fer’.
A lot of people think, when they’re studying a language and they’re new to it, that they need to pronounce each word fully and clearly in order to be well-understood. But in English that’s actually not the case. English is a stress-timed language. That means some syllables will be longer, and some will be shorter. Many languages, however, are syllable-timed, which means each syllable has the same length. Examples of syllable-timed languages: French, Spanish, Cantonese. So, when an American hears a sentence of English, with each syllable having the same length, it takes just a little bit longer to get the meaning. This is because we are used to stressed syllables, syllables that will pop out of the line because they’re longer and they have more shape. Our ears, our brains, go straight to those words. Those are the content words. When all syllables are the same length, then there’s no way for the ear to know which words are the most important.
So this is why stress is so important in American English. It’s a stress-timed language. When you give us nice shape in your stressed syllables, you’re giving us the meaning of the sentence. This means that other syllables need to be unstressed — flatter, quicker — so that the stressed syllables are what the ear goes to. This is why it’s so important to reduce function words that can reduce in American English. When those function words are part of a whole, part of a sentence, they are pronounced differently. Let’s look at some examples.
—-. Do you know what I’m saying? A native speaker might not either. But, in the context of a sentence, “I’m going to the store,” a native speaker would know exactly what I was saying. I’m going to the store. I’m going to the store. When ‘to the’ is pronounced —- (reduced and linked), ‘going’ and ‘store’ become the obvious words in that sentence. I’m going to the store.
What about —-? Can you understand what I’m saying? A native speaker might not either. But, in the sentence fragment “Because of my job,” “Because of my job,” a native speaker would know exactly what I was saying. Because of my job. Because of my job. ‘Because’ and ‘of’ are so unstressed, so reduced and low in pitch, that the word ‘job’ is able to really jump out of the sentence. Because of my job.
This is really of primary importance in American English pronunciation. As you’re working on pronunciation, keep in mind this idea of a word being part of a whole.
The word ‘for’: part of a word becomes fer, fer, fer you, fer me, fer dinner. Practice it this way. Drill it over and over. Other words that can reduce: ‘and’ can become ‘n’. ‘Them’ can become ‘thum’ or ’em’. ‘At’ can become ‘ut’. ‘To’ can become ‘tuh’ or ‘duh’. ‘Can’ can become ‘kun’, ‘kun’. ‘Are’ can become ‘er’, ‘er’. ‘Was’ can become ‘wuz’, ‘wuz’. ‘That’ can become ‘thut’, ‘thut’. ‘Your’ can become ‘yer’, ‘yer’. ‘At the’ can become ‘ut the’, ‘ut the’. And so on. So keep an eye out for this as you’re studying pronunciation and listening to native speakers.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.
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