Category Archives: Connected Speech

FREE Resource Pack for English - Creepy Crawlies

FREE Resource Pack for English – Creepy Crawlies

FREE Resource Pack for English – Creepy Crawlies

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Vocabulary, English Idioms, Tense Conversion, Verb Forms, Word and Sentence Stress, Speaking and Listening, Connected Speech… and much more!

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FREE Resource Pack for English – Creepy Crawlies

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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

FREE Karaoke! Lost in Japan by Shawn Mendes, Zedd

FREE Karaoke! Lost in Japan by Shawn Mendes, Zedd

Lost in Japan by Shawn MendesZedd

Sung by Shawn Mendes  /  Written by Shawn Mendes, Scott Harris, Nate Mercereau, and Teddy Geiger

Sing along to the brand new music video with lyrics!

Here are the full lyrics:

Connected Speech in Real Life #1 – From Jar of Hearts to Jar of Farts

The hit song Jar of Hearts (2010) by Christina Perri became the subject of numerous parodies due to many people mishearing the title lyrics as not ‘jar of hearts’ but the rather more odious ‘jar of farts’.

Why did this happen? Well it’s all down to connected speech and the sound connection between ‘of’ and ‘hearts’. This is a cc (consonant to consonant) sound connection and we can see in Lesson 5.7 Connected Speech that we need to change this to a vc (vowel to consonant) connection. When the second syllable in a sound connection starts with a  h  sound we usually delete it and then move forward the final consonant sound of the first syllable. As the voiced consonant sound  v  (from ‘of’) moves forward, it changes to its unvoiced equivalent  f.

So we go from:

jar     of     hearts     (Jar Ov Hartz in Clear Alphabet)

to:

Jar     r     Fartz

The first sound connection ‘jar of’ is vv (vowel to vowel), so we connect with a  r  sound (intrusion). ‘Of’ is a function word, so it is not stressed and after losing its final consonant sound becomes an embedded schwa sound after  r:  Jar r

In short, it’s too difficult for the singer to pronounce  v  and  h  together (‘of hearts’), since a vc connection is required. It’s no surprise then that such a lovely sentiment on paper (‘jar of hearts’) becomes something rather more pungently unpleasant in the listener’s ears. It’s just unfortunate that the normal process of using connected speech to create vc connections has resulted in an entirely different phrase, but one that was humorously relevant.

How Natives Cut and Connect Their Words in English: Connected Speech in the Simple Past

Learn to use connected speech like a native speaker with this great video lesson from RealLife English: