So, have you ever heard of suprasegmentals? No, they’re not the newest superhero team in town. Suprasegmentals are:
- the features of speech which extend over more than one segment, such as intonation, stress, linking, and pausing.
- Short-term courses should focus more on suprasegmentals because they have the greatest impact on the comprehensibility of the learners’ English.
- After all, the goal of pronunciation teaching is to foster communicative effectiveness.
In normal (regular) speech, people don’t pronounce each word as a separate, individual unit. The words blend together, change, and are shortened. This is not sloppy, lazy, or incorrect. It’s just normal, natural speech.
Here’s an example. If we say this sentence very slowly and carefully, it sounds like this:
- Don’t you think we are going to have fun?
If we say it at a normal speed, it sounds like one long, blended word, like this (using IPA symbols):
- /d o n t ʃ ə θ ɪ ŋ k w ɪ r g ə n ə h æ v f ʌ n /
Linking: In normal speech, the last sound of one word is often linked or blended with the first sound of the next word so that the two words sound like one unit.
For example, a word-final consonant usually links to a following vowel:
- I foun dout that pronunciatio nis fun..
(consonant + vowel)
When two identical consonants come together, they merge and lengthen (as if with no pause).
- My son ̮͜ needs a pet ̮͜ tiger.
Linking: When a word ends in /iy/, /ey/, /ay/, or /ɔy/ and the next word begins with a vowel, we hear a linking /y/ sound between them.
- We’ll be(y)able to say̮͜ it well.
- Bully͜ing vs. bully-ing
- Be(y)ing vs. be-ing
Linking: In the same way, when one word ends in /uw/, /ow/, or /aw / and the next word begins with a vowel, we hear a linking /w/ sound between them.
- Blue (w)is now (w)in fashion.
In some words, an unstressed syllable is deleted.
- chocolate = choc-lit
- interesting = int-resting
- aspirin = asp-rin
- restaurant = rest-rant
- family = fam-ly
Stress, Unstress (Word Level)
Research shows that incorrect stressing of polysyllabic words greatly affect comprehensibility.
Stress, Unstress (Sentence Level)
Students should be made aware that unstress is NOT a sign of slovenly, careless, or degenerate speech. Rather, it is essential to the appropriate rhythm of English.
Content vs. function words
Generally, the stressed words are the meaning-carrying words and unstressed words are the function or grammatical words.
I want you to take the dog for a walk near the park.
The woman with the gun in her hand is a hospital patient.
Students can begin to listen selectively (not to give equal attention to every word they hear. The stressed words in a sentence minus the function words will give the message of the sentence in telegraphic form.
…want take dog walk park
…woman gun hand hospital patient
Imagine you are learning a new language. It would really help you, as a listener, if the speaker uses correct word or sentence stress; you will not have to translate every word from the L2 to your L1. You just need to translate/understand the stressed words.
Marking stressed words in English
e.g. It’s been raining since she started her vacation.
Stress and Rhythm
INCORRECT: Linda can use Charlie’s car.
CORRECT: Linda can use Charlie’s car.
Every thought group has one syllable that receives more stress than the others. This is called sentence stress or prominence.
Prominence can be given to an important word or one that the speaker wants to highlight.
- I saw an elephant in the parking lot!
Words that are in contrast to each other can be stressed. This is called contrastive stress.
- I said I wanted coffee, not tea!
- Today I’ll study, but tomorrow I’ll go to the beach.
Reduced forms of words
Because English is a stress-timed language, unstressed syllables tend to be very short and indistinct. This helps form the rhythm of English.
Many words that are often unstressed–articles, prepositions, and other function words–are usually pronounced with reduced forms.
- bread and butter = breadnbutter
- coffee or tea = coffeertea
- cup of coffee = cupocoffee
- help him = help ‘im
- help them = help ‘em
A group of spoken words that form a grammatical and semantic unit is called a thought group. It is often a sentence, a clause, or a phrase–a chunk of language that feels like a logical unit. Because each thought group has its own intonation contour, a thought group can also be called an intonation unit.
When we speak, we often break up long sentences into smaller thought groups, with a short pause between them. This makes it easier for listeners to follow what we’re saying.
- Whenever I do my homework / I get sleepy. //
- I really should go to bed earlier, / I suppose. //
- I’ll try to get more sleep tonight. //
- Intonation is the pitch pattern of a sentence– the “melody” of your voice as you speak.
- Every language has intonation. But each language has its own characteristic patterns for different kinds of sentences. We often don’t notice the intonation of our own language because we’re so used to it, but it’s there.
Intonation in English can depend on many things:
- the grammatical form of the sentence
- assumptions about what the listener knows or does not know
- the speaker’s emotions and intentions
- the speaker’s age, occupation, and personality
- the situation: serious or silly, formal or informal, at work or at home