A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to Barcelona to the International House ELT conference.
While I was there I had an opportunity to talk with Richard Cauldwell, who was giving a plenary talk on training teachers to deal with authentic recordings. He mentioned a page on American Voices that described how in phrases like “day of” or “way out,” we often hear a ‘y’ sound that links the words together.
It’s good to be aware of that, but it’s also good to remember that in the flow of natural speech, the way we pronounce things can be very different. Sounds can change, or influence each other, or even disappear.
Richard mentioned that in the example “day of school,” he didn’t hear a linking ‘y.’ Let’s listen:
day of school
To Richard, this sounded more like “Dave.” And when I thought about it, and listened to it in isolation…
…I began to hear “Dave,” too!
Even teachers and native speakers – maybe especially native speakers – might think we hear a ‘y’ sound there, but that may be because we expect it to be there. We perceive the word that the context suggests, even if the actual sounds were blurred or dropped in the flow of speech.
This made me curious, so I found some similar examples in the podcasts and stories on American Voices. Let’s listen to them in isolation; you’ll hear each short clip 3 times, and then I’d like you to type in the word(s) you think you’ve heard.
In isolation, these sound like they could be “ways,” “wave,” and “stain.” But let’s listen again, this time with more context:
When we speak quickly, the linking ‘y’ can be lost in the blur of sound. So combinations like ‘day of school,’ or ‘stay inside’ may well sound like “Dave school” [devskul] and “stainside” [stensajd].
This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong insert a ‘y’ to link the vowels between words. Linking with ‘y’ does seem to be more common if the next syllable is stressed, as in these examples:
he asked me
Note that here the final consonants in “asked” are dropped: [hijǽsmi].
The important point here is that linking with /y/ is a strong tendency, but it’s not an absolute rule.
Keep this in mind as you listen to the stories and podcasts on American Voices. If you’d like to learn more – whether you’re a learner or teacher of English – I highly recommend a visit to Richard Cauldwell’s website at www.speechinaction.org.