Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Cheap Present of Reef Fish for Ronny

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

Can you figure out by looking carefully at the title of this piece what my topic is this week? (I’ll give you a hint: It’s something to do with pronunciation.) Go ahead . . . Say the title out loud a few times and see if you can figure out the topic.

Have you got it? Are you still clueless? Okay, I’ll let the cat out of the bag. The topic of this piece is a little something that I think is often overlooked when pronunciation lessons are planned, much to my chagrin. It’s called juncture, the joining point of two sounds. This is an area of pronunciation that’s problematic for people learning English. It happens when the final consonant sound of one word and the initial consonant sound of the following word are identical or closely related. When you have this situation, native speakers basically connect or join the two sounds, creating what sounds like one word instead of two.

Take, for example, the phrase a sad dog. Most English language learners will try to pronounce sad and dog as separate words like this: a sad dog, but native speakers will join the final sound of sad and the initial sound of dog and say a saddog. When native speakers do this, they hold on to the conjoined sound just a fraction longer than they normally would. That’s juncture!

To get you into the swing of things, here are more examples to demonstrate juncture at work when we’re dealing with either voiced or voiceless sounds in both words. Say each pair out loud and you’ll see what I mean:

Bob_Barker / half_full / a big_girl / pick_cotton / clean nails / a ripe_pear /
the bus_stop / sweet_tomatoes / both_thumbs / bathe_the dog / too much_sugar

Did you hear juncture at work in each of these pairs when you said them out loud? And did you notice how you held on to the conjoined sounds just a little bit longer than normal? Now you’re cookin’!

Ah, but what about the words first and student? The final sound in one word and initial sound in the other word is the combination [st]. How does this work, you ask? Well, when we combine such sounds, it’s the [s] that’s held and the [t] in the first word is dropped, so we end up with She’s the firs_student to win that award. The same disappearing act happens with words like past and dances: I’ve enjoyed all the pas_dances at our school.

English has exceptions to lots of its rules, so why should juncture be any exception? Yep, there are a couple of exceptions to the rules that deal with juncture. The first exception is when we have the sound [ch]. If one word ends with [ch] and the next word begins with [ch] or [j], we have no juncture: a rich chowder, a rich janitor. Interestingly enough, this doesn’t happen when the first word ends with [ch] and the next word begins with [sh]. We saw that earlier in the phrase too much_sugar.

The other exception to our rules is when we’re dealing with the sound [j] in both words, as in orange juice. Once again, there’s no juncture.

But we’re not quite finished yet! There’s one more thing to mention. What happens if the two words have closely related sounds, but one ends in a voiced sound and the other begins in a voiceless sound, or vice versa? For example, what about if we have rob and Peter? Both [b] and [p] are related because they’re both bilabials produced by quickly closing and opening the lips. So what happens in this case since the final sound of rob is voiced, while the initial sound of Peter is voiceless? In this case, instead of combining the two sounds into one and holding the sound for a split second longer, the two sounds actually remain independent. The final sound of the first word is held a little longer, and then it glides into the initial sound of the next word. So getting back to rob and Peter, we say They’re going to rob_Peter.

Here are a few more examples of this neat little phonological trick:

a bad_temper / big_cats / a great_decision /
pick_grapefruit / a tough_vampire / his_slacks

So there you have it. As you can see, there’s quite a bit to say about this neat occurrence called juncture and why it’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked in teaching English pronunciation. I rest my case. Oh! Just to get back to the title of this piece for a moment, how should we say it out loud? This is how: A cheap_present of reef_fish for_Ronny. That’s how!


Comment from Anonymous
November 19, 2009 at 11:35 pm

This is the first and only page who has enlightened me on this topic correctly. A co-teacher of mine kept on calling it "word mixing" but it doesn't come out correctly when I searched for it. This is the best. Thaks.

Comment from jay
December 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm

thank you for the idea…Now,it will really help me in my report

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