Connected Speech

So far, we’ve mainly looked at words in isolation, but this is rarely the way words occur in normal everyday speech. Here, we tend to only pronounce isolated words if we are listing them one at a time or enunciating them very clearly so as to avoid/clarify misunderstandings. In connected speech, many things change inside and in between words in order to facilitate communication/pronunciation and to make certain parts of the message more or less salient or to group items of information together.

Before we start looking at individual aspects of connected speech, though, we first need to do away with a few common myths or misnomers that have established themselves over a long period of time. These form part of a rather misguided idea about rhetoric or rhetorical skills.

Speech Rate

When people talk about rate of speech, they often make a distinction between ‘slow’ and ‘rapid’ speech. One fairly common notion is that slow speech is somehow better than a relatively fast rate of articulation, i.e. that ‘rapid’ speech tends to be less clear and understandable than slow speech. However, while it is quite possible that someone who is possibly overexcited and wants to bring a message across quickly may not enunciate quite as clearly as someone who speaks deliberately, someone who is skilled at speaking quickly, such as e.g. a sports commentator, will be able to keep up a fast rate of speech and still pronounce very clearly. On the other hand, someone who speaks too slowly will often either appear less than intelligent or at least fail to emphasise or group together relevant parts of the message and may thus even become less understandable to some extent.

Speech Styles

Another contrasting pair of expressions one may encounter is ‘careful’ vs. ‘colloquial’ speech, and some people may claim that careful speech is better than colloquial speech because the latter “is only an expression/sign of laziness”. The first thing we can reply to this is that colloquial is not really a term that applies to the phonetics of speech, but rather ought to be restricted to vocabulary/usage. As far as careful speech and in particular the issue of “laziness” is concerned, the latter is often meant to refer to certain processes of simplification – such as the ‘dropping’ of certain consonants, especially in clusters – that tend to occur in the speech chain in order to ease pronunciation. These processes are very normal in ordinary everyday speech and, on the contrary, it is actually excessive carefulness in enunciation that is unnatural because it affects the speech rate in the negative way discussed above, as well as possibly creating an impression of arrogance in the listener. Of course, there is nothing to say against the notion of carefully wording one’s arguments, but this is a question of register, politeness and conciseness of expression, which fall more into the realms of semantics & pragmatics, rather than of phonetics/phonology.