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Adventures in Connected Speech – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Adventures in Connected Speech – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Adventures in Connected Speech – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

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Before reading why not find out more about connected speech here.

Woduvaigada

If I came up to you and said ‘Woduvaigada?’, would you know what I meant?
What about if I added a main verb – an infinitive – afterwards: ‘Woduvaigada do?’
I’m guessing if you are a native speaker – if you have grown up listening to English your whole life – you will understand this phrase with a main verb:

‘Woduvaigada do?’

‘Woduvaigada say?’

However, if you are a learner of English – if you haven’t grown up with English as your main language – this lesson could help you. We’re talking about connected speech. The way that English speakers combine words in a sentence.

‘Woduvaigada do?’ = ‘What have I got to do?’ which becomes ‘What’ve I got to do?’

But how do we get a coherent sentence in English from a seemingly gibberish word? And why is it that a native speaker understands it – instinctively – while a non-native speaker may not?

The phrase ‘Woduvaigada do?’ comes from the first line of the original recording of the famous song by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word (1976), above. (Super Tip: hear the syllables in more detail by playing the video at half speed or lower; just click the gear and select: Speed > 0.5.)

Let’s break it down into syllables:

In the top line we see the actual words of the lyrics and in the bottom line the sounds made. I have written the sounds phonetically using Clear Alphabet[Click here for more about Clear Alphabet.]

When analysing a sentence we must:

i. separate the words into content words (important words) and function words (grammatical words): here ‘What’ and ‘do’ are content words

ii. make any possible contractions: ‘What’ and ‘have’ make the contraction ‘What’ve’

iii. identify the stressed syllable in each content word: each content word has only one syllable, so it is stressed

iv. identify the stressed vowel sound in the stressed syllables: ‘What’ has the short o sound, while ‘do’ has the long oo sound

v. reduce the function words to make them weaker and less obvious: this is where we end up with the unusual ‘word’ ‘woduvaigada’

(We should note that it is also possible to read the sentence as ‘What do I got to do’, which is not standard English grammar but rather a mix of: ‘What do I have to do?’ and ‘What have I got to do?’ We sometimes hear ‘What do I got to do’ as a slang form, particularly in American English.)

The sentence has four weak syllables, marked in grey below:

The aim for the speaker (or singer) is to go from ‘What’ to ‘do’ as quickly as possible. The last thing we should do is put an accent (stress) on every syllable: ‘What. Do. I. Got. To. Do?’ This sounds awful and makes the sentence very difficult for a native speaker to understand, since we are relying on the stressed vowel sounds to give us most of the meaning of the sentence:

What – do?

If I said simply ‘What – do?’ while pointing at myself (‘I’) the listener could probably understand what I meant. The message is ‘What do?’ or ‘What I do?’ From this we may understand ‘What must I do?’ The problem is that ‘What do?’ has to be expressed correctly in English grammar, either via present simple – ‘What do I have to do?’ – or via present perfect: ‘What have I got to do?’ Native speakers are so familiar with the forms of these tenses that we can skate over them very quickly, barely referencing them:

Learners of English have to study connected speech to be able to understand it and then use it as spoken English. The process is fairly simple and is laid out in detail here. I always tell students that it’s not rocket science. Now that would be hard! Remember that the goal in connected speech is to achieve vc or friendly sound connections between all syllables. In short, the sentence breaks down as follows:

Connection 1:

In this cv connection the consonant sound  t  moves forward to join the schwa sound at the beginning of the contraction ‘ve’. t  changes to d  (assimilation), because of the mid-Atlantic accent adopted by the singer

Connection 2:

In this cv connection the consonant sound  v  moves forward to join  ai  and form:  vai

Connection 3:

A vc connection is what we want, so we leave it

Connection 4:

Two of the same sounds meet:  t  and  t. The first sound –  t  – disappears (elision), and the second  t  changes to its matching sound  d. This is due to the mid-Atlantic accent adopted by the singer

Connection 5:   A vc connection is what we want, so we leave it

We further reduce weak syllables by substituting a schwa sound – the weak vowel sound in English – for any strong sounds. We do this here with the  a  of ‘have’ (changed to ‘ve’) and the  oo  of ‘to’. The  o  of ‘got’ becomes an  a, again because of the mid-Atlantic accent adopted by the singer.

So we end up with:

 

A. Wo – we clearly understand this as the question word ‘what’ – despite the missing ‘t’, because of the  w  sound, the strong vowel sound  o, and the fact it has one syllable. No other one-syllable question word has the strong vowel sound  o. The others all have different vowel sounds: ‘where’ has  eir, ‘when’ has  e, ‘why’ has  ai, and so on.

B. The second syllable contains the moved-forward t  from ‘What’ changed to  d, plus an             embedded schwa sound from the beginning of ‘ve’

C. ‘I’ remains a full ai  sound, with the  v  sound which moved forward in front

D. ‘got’ loses its ending sound, but it doesn’t matter because a similar sound d  follows (t  and  d  are matching sounds – the former unvoiced and the latter voiced). o  has changed to  a, as noted, above.

E. The vowel sound in ‘to’ is reduced to a schwa sound; t  changes to  d  due to a personal choice about accent (mid Atlantic) made by the singer

F. The second content word ‘do’ has a long full vowel sound and is accordingly stressed by the singer

What makes this sentence unusual is not ‘What’ + four weak syllables together but the way the artist sings them so fast to make them all fit into one beat of the song:

‘What’ve I got to’ has to fit into the same length beat as ‘do’, which ends up producing the unusual word ‘woduvaigada’, which is understood by native speakers, but may come across as babble – or just ‘too hard’ for non-native speakers. Further emphasis is added by each of the six syllables having the same note.

What are the takeaways from this lesson:

  1. Connected speech is a thing in English: we get most of the meaning of a sentence from the stressed vowel sounds: Wo – do. Learners of English have to actively learn about connected speech if they want to sound more natural and be less difficult to listen to. [You can learn about connected speech here.]
  2. Schwa sounds are real – and really common. If you don’t use them then you will be stressing far too many syllables in the sentence, making function words too prominent and losing much of the meaning (see 1. above).
  3. The point about this sentence is that the only two words that are important are: ‘What’ and ‘do’. You could put a variety of different function words in between them and the meaning wouldn’t change too much. The listener understands ‘What’ and ‘do’ and the rest could just as well be: ‘blah, blah, blah, blah’:

and so on. The main purpose of the middle bit is to make clear the subject – the ‘who’ of the question – ‘I’. The singer retains the full form of I – ai – rather than changing it to a schwa sound – perhaps as a way of stressing who the subject is amidst the muddle of syllables.

4. As well as the phrase ‘What have I got to…’ there are other similar structures to learn, which have multiple reduced function words. We use these unusual ‘words’ every day, so if you don’t know them, you could be missing out. If you can learn them it will be easier to listen to and understand people speaking English, for example:

and so on.

5. It’s also important to know common slang phrases (contractions) in English which represent function word phrases, because you will hear them a lot in spoken English. For example:

Not forgetting this truly epic sentence featuring no fewer than eight syllables with function words:


How other artists have treated the line:

Blue featuring Elton John (2002): ‘What I gotta do…?’:

Joe Cocker live (1992): ‘What’ve I got to…?’  then  ‘What do I got to…?’:

Nataly Dawn (2011): ‘What do I gotta do…?’:

Elton John live at the Royal Albert Hall (2002): ‘What’ve I got to do’, but very fast, almost staccato:


Image used by permission: By yabosidFlickr: Elton John, Live at Liseberg 8/7 1971, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

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Idiom of the Day: Full of the joys of spring

Idiom of the Day: Full of the joys of spring

Idiom of the Day: To be full of the joys of spring

Literal meaning:

To be unexpectedly happy.

Example:

‘You’re full of the joys of spring. What happened?’

When to use it:

Two work colleagues meet; one of them is unusually cheerful.

  • Hi Jack. You’re full of the joys of spring.
  • Oh – my granddaughter was born last night.
  • Oh, great! Wow – congratulations!

Other use:

It could also be used sarcastically, e.g. you get home from work to find your partner moaning about your credit card bill:

  • I thought you told me you were going to get rid of this card!
  • You’re full of the joys of spring!
  • I’m serious. We can’t go on like this any more, Brian.

Image: https://pixabay.com

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Brexit Terms Explained At Last!

Brexit Terms Explained At Last!

 


Find 20 words about Brexit with our amazing Brexit word search!


Brexit Terms Explained At Last!

1. Brexiter (Brexiteer) vs. Remainer (Remoaner)
Brexiteer = the boldest of the three musketeers, who loved breaking things asunder. (Not to be confused with brexitear = a tear shed by Remain voters as they contemplate Brexit Britain.) Remoaner = one who wishes to run a contest again and again until they win.

2. no deal is better than a bad deal
The original name for the popular Noel Edmonds-hosted quiz show on Channel 4.

3. leave on WTO rules
A way of doing something without thinking about the consequences, e.g. ‘Shall we pay for our meal now?’ ‘Nah. Let’s leave on WTO rules.’

4. crash out
To sleep after energetic activity, e.g. after a hard day on a Remain march or painting faces with the EU flag – or both.

5. People’s Vote
Non-technical, easy-to-understand name for a referendum.

6. kicking the can down the road
A fun activity for kids after Brexit.

7. Brexit means Brexit
A very clear way of explaining what something means, e.g. book means BOOK, grandma means GRANDMA, etc.

8. the will of the people
A document stating what should happen to the people’s assets in the event that Brexit causes mass death (see Project Fear, below).

9. Project Fear
A way of making the German word for four (vier) appear on a wall by means of light passing through a thing.

10. transition period
The greatest ever album by Gerry Rafferty.

11. Northern Irish backstop
A delightful folk trio from Ballymena; their first album was called ‘Blame it on the Backstop’; their second was ‘Don’t Blame it on the Backstop’, and their third will be titled: ‘Don’t Mention the Backstop’.

12. Withdrawal Agreement
A verbal agreement in which both parties agree to be very careful and avoid having children.

13. cliff edge
A prominent leave supporter, Cliff lives alone with his mother in Ramsgate, Kent. Motto: ‘Hey ho! WTO – let’s go!’

14. Brexit fatigue
The unfortunate condition of not having heard enough about Brexit for the past three years.

15. hard border
A tough guy who lives in a boarding house.

16. divorce bill
A situation where you take all of your money and either burn it or give it to a firm of lawyers – your choice.

17. extend Article 50
What happens when you make Article 50 longer, e.g. Aaaaaaarrrrrtttttiiiiiiccccccllllllleeeeeeee5555555555000000000000000000.

18. no deal – no problem
What you say when the bank turns you down for a loan, but you want to look nonchalant then walk away whistling to yourself.

19. soft / hard Brexit
What would happen if Brexit were pillows: soft Brexit = very comfortable and nice, but maybe too squishy; hard Brexit = something is awry here; it feels like there is a rock in it, but it’s good for your back – and your morale.

20. BRINO
An extremely rare kind of Brexit Rhino, with union jack (flag) colouring and a dainty unicorn horn instead of a big rhino one.

21. future relationship
Unfortunately there isn’t any space to discuss thi…


Oops. Sorry, there was a slight error there. Gremlins in the works. Er… Right.

Below are the actual definitions. Match each definition to a Brexit term, above.


Brexit Terms Explained At Last!

a) A 21-month period after leaving the EU on 29th March 2019 when the UK remains in the EU while a trade deal is (hopefully) drawn up.

b) Leave the EU without a deal. (Remainer term)

c) The official deal for leaving the EU, drawn up by the UK Government and the EU.

d) It would be preferable to leave the EU without an agreement, if that agreement was unsuitable.

e) Leaving the EU means a complete break with the EU.

f) Acronym for ‘Brexit in name only’. The Brexiter fear that a deal will make it look as though we have left the EU, when we haven’t. (Brexiter term)

g) A second referendum on leaving the EU. (Remainer term)

h) A payment of €39 billion to be made to the EU by the UK, covering money promised for projects and membership of the EU to the end of the transition period.

i) Putting off making a decision until a future date, as the deadline approaches.

j) The idea that there are varying ‘shades’ of Brexit, from virtually remaining in the EU (soft Brexit) to leaving without a deal (hard Brexit).

k) The fear that leaving the UK without a plan will lead to the end of life in the UK as we know it – a bit like recklessly jumping off a great precipice.

l) The decision to leave the EU, which was made by the majority of voters in the June 23rd 2016 referendum.

m) The idea that Article 50 could be extended by several months or years after the legal deadline of 29th March 2019.

n) A deliberate campaign organised by certain Remainers intended to spread fear and panic regarding the implications of leaving the EU. (Brexiter term)

o) Rely on default trading rules from the World Trade Organisation, rather than having a deal with the EU.

p) A guarantee agreed by the UK and the EU that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, no matter what the UK’s future relationship with the EU may be.

q) The feeling of being sick and tired of hearing about Brexit.

r) Leave supporter (positive nickname) vs. Remain supporter (negative nickname).

s) The idea that leaving the EU without a deal would be unproblematic. (Brexiter term)

t) A border between Northern Ireland and Ireland that requires a passport, ID, or customs form to cross.

Answers:

1. r)
2. d)
3. o)
4. b)
5. g)
6. i)
7. e)
8. l)
9. n)
10. a)
11. p)
12. c)
13. k)
14. q)
15. t)
16. h)
17. m)
18. s)
19. j)
20. f)


Images: https://pixabay.com

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