Streamlining in Speech


A good example of elision is the /d/ of and, which frequently disappears, as shown in pop spellings such as rock ‘n roll. How tedious it would be to have to say that /d/! Here are some more phrases with pop spellings – can you identify the elisions?

            1 Give ‘em our love. (Give them our love)

            2 It’s kinda nice. (It’s kind of nice)

            3 Dunno why. (Don’t know why)

            4 S’nice to be back (It’s nice to be back)

            5 Whatcha doing? (What are you doing?)

In 1-3, there is simply one consonant sound missing: a ‘th’ in 1, an ‘f’ in 2, and a ‘t’ in 3. Meanwhile, 4 and 5 are more complex. In s’nice, the ‘it’ has disappeared. In whatcha the are has disappeared.

Dropping syllables

Elisions like examples 4 and 5 above, which involve a missing vowel sound, are perhaps more significant than 1-3, where only consonants are involved. That’s because when a vowel sound is cut, an entire syllable is lost, changing the rhythm of the word or phrase. The effect can be quite dramatic. For example, a word like particularly may be reduced from five syllables to three, coming out as something like patiky. Words in the wild can be very different from the tame creatures we find in the dictionary – it’s a jungle out there!

Cauldwell’s jungle

Richard Cauldwell classifies spoken English into three categories in an imaginative metaphor: greenhouse, garden and jungle.

In the greenhouse form, all of the words are fully realised in their official ‘dictionary’ citation form. The words are like plants in a greenhouse, artificially kept apart from the natural environment.

In the garden form, the words blend together in a strictly controlled manner, according to the rules of connected speech of the kind you’ll find in published pronunciation books. Spoken English of the garden variety is produced when a speaker is taking care to enunciate clearly. Many teachers feel this garden-style English is a suitable goal for learners’ own pronunciation.

Meanwhile, Cauldwell’s jungle is speech in action – the kind of language produced by speakers spontaneously, in unplanned real-time interactions. Under this kind of communicative pressure, speakers frequently take dramatic short cuts which go much further than the connected speech features outlined in the garden form. For example, this might include particularly coming out as patiky. While this is obviously not a suitable model for learners’ spoken production, they will almost certainly confront it as listeners from time to time.

High variability

A key aspect of jungle English is variability. Speakers don’t always take the same short cuts every time. Nor is it always easy for the listener to identify which short cut has been taken. Take for example the word something. The ‘th’ in the middle may be dropped so that it comes out as som’ing (the ‘o’ may be cut too, making sming). Alternatively, the ‘th’ may still be there but unclear and blurred, so that it sounds more like /h/ perhaps: somehing. Right there, we have four versions of the same very common word, and we will find more – smin perhaps, or even sup’m (where the apostrophe is a glottal stop). This variability is nothing abnormal. Experienced listeners may not even be aware of it. On the other hand, learners may need to be. If you expect to hear tidy garden speech, hearing jungle speech may lead to confusion and despair. Forewarned is forearmed!


Cauldwell, R. (2018). A Syllabus for Listening – Decoding Speech in Action

Hancock, M. (2022). PronPack: Connected Speech for Listeners Hancock McDonald ELT

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.