Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": January 16, 2003
AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble and this week on Wordmaster, English teacher Lida Baker explains some of the shortcuts that work their way into conversational American speech.
RS: They're called reduced forms, or reductions. And, since it was noon when we spoke to Lida, she served up the perfect lunchtime example:
BAKER: "So tell me, jeet yet?"
RS: "No we haven't eaten yet (laughter)."
BAKER: "See, you understood what I said, 'jeet.' Now if we were to pronounce that the way it's written, we would say 'did you eat yet?' But in rapid, spoken English, the 'did you' gets reduced. Do you see how the nature of the consonants changes, it's not 'did you,' it's 'juh' Let's suppose that you had already eaten lunch, so I could ask you 'hoodjeet with with?'"
RS: "Who did you eat with?"
BAKER: "That's right. Whadja eet?"
RS: "'What did you eat?' to translate."
BAKER: "Right. The reductions occur in words that are not stressed. So going back over those three examples, which admittedly are rather extreme -- and we'll go back and look at a few cases that are less extreme -- notice that it's the auxiliary verb, which is 'did,' and the pronoun 'you' gets reduced, and the word 'eat,' which is the verb in this sentence, is the stressed word. The word 'yet' is unstressed; it's an adverb. So it comes out 'jeet yet?'
Now let me give you some examples of reductions that occur frequently, or even all the time. One example would be the preposition 'to,' which we normally in spoken language pronounce 'ta,' 'I hafta go,' 'I hafta,' right? Haf-ta. It's not 'to.' Same thing with the word 'you.' How does that get reduced?"
BAKER: "That's right, it becomes 'ya.' So instead of 'how are you doing,' we say 'how ya doin'?"
AA: "You drop the g on doing."
BAKER: "We drop the g. So that would be -- remember, there are two changes that occur in pronunciation when forms are reduced. One is that consonants change or disappear, and other one is that there's a change in the vowel quality. So 'how ya doin',' the word 'are' disappeared all together, the 'you' changed to 'ya' and on the word 'doing' the g dropped."
RS: "It would sound really strange if I would say in casual conversation, 'how are you doing?'"
AA: "Unless you're talking to someone who's hard of hearing or you know doesn't understand the language very well."
BAKER: "Yeah, it would be very unnatural. Think of other forms like 'gotta.' 'I gotta go.' We don't say 'I have got to go.' The word 'have' drops, 'got to' becomes 'gotta.' Notice 'got to,' when we pronounce them together, the 't' in American English changes to a ‘d.’ So there's a example of where, as I said before, consonant quality changes."
RS: "And we see this with 'going to,' 'I'm gonna go.'"
BAKER: "And very interesting, because most of my students, even at a low intermediate level, are familiar with 'gonna.' They've heard it so many times in movies and in songs and so on, so much so that I'll receive essays where the students have written g-o-n-n-a. But what I'm teaching people is academic English, and so I have to teach them that it's not OK to write reduced forms. It's OK to say them, but you shouldn't write them."
AA: "So is any of this related to social class or to education?"
BAKER: "I think the use of reduced forms is tied more to the situation. You'll find that when people are talking with their friends in a more casual situation, where we're feeling more relaxed, we tend to use more reduced forms -- because, one of the reasons that we do reduce forms, that we do have so many reductions in our speech, is that it's just much easier to pronounce words. Whenever we pronounce consonants, the mouth has to be in a certain position, and to move from one position to another requires a certain amount of muscular effort."
RS: Lida Baker teaches at the American Language Center of the University of California at Los Angeles. She also writes textbooks for English learners.
AA: You'll find our previous Wordmaster segments with Lida on our Web site, voanews.com/wordmaster. And our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or write us at VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.
MUSIC: "What You Gonna Do"/The Jeanette Williams Band