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I am working on my accent and pronunciation. I use American Accent Training and it says that in spoken English, speakers usually run words together.

For example, "Run them all together" turns into "Runnemalld'gether." I have two questions here.

  1. Is there any rule when we can reduce th sound?
  2. Is it acceptable in business meeting and academic speaking to reduce th and running word together?
10

In actual speech situations, with native English speakers, Fast Speech Rules are unavoidable.

These rules describe normal pronunciations. There are no spaces between words in language,
only in writing, which is not language and does not have anything to do with how we speak.
(After all, most people in the world are illiterate, but they still speak.)

To take just one example, the fraction "5/6" is written five-sixths, and we are taught it's
sposta be pronounced /fayvsɪksθs/.
That's a pretty chewy consonant cluster there at the end:

  • /ksθs/ -- a /k/, followed by an /s/, a /θ/, and another /s/. with no vowels at all.
    Phonologically, all are voiceless sounds, and the last three are fricatives.

This makes them hard to pronounce together fast, because the tongue has to go
from the position for the /s/ (touching the top sides of the mouth)
to the position for the /θ/ (touching the bottom of the upper incisor teeth)
and back again to the position for /s/. Very fast, in a cluster.

Such clusters are hard to pronounce and normally get simplified, usually by deletion.
In practice, what people actually do is drop the /v/, and the /θ/, and just say a long /s:/, i.e,

  • /fay'sɪkss/

Pious instructions to "enunciate more clearly" do nothing to improve comprehension.
If you are interacting with native speakers, pay careful attention to the way they speak.
They're the ones you want to communicate with.

  • 4
    ‘Enunciating more clearly’ is in fact very often detrimental to comprehension and will only make you sound unnatural and native speakers unable to understand you. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 7 '14 at 20:55
  • Since the OP appears to be an English language learner, I feel I should mention that I had never, ever before now heard the word "language" used in a way which excludes writing and other non-spoken forms of communication. Indeed, the Collins English Dictionary doesn't even mention this usage, although Merriam-Webster does. For consistency with common usage, perhaps it would be better to replace "language" with "speech" in the second paragraph? – Vectornaut Jul 1 '14 at 8:05
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    @Vectornaut: Sorry, no. Unfortunately, common usage is incorrect. The word was put there with aforethought to emphasize the fact (which I frequently hafta point out here) that it is the spoken language that is Language. Written language is merely the technology we use to record real (i.e, spoken) language, and anything like punctuation and spelling is not about Language at all, but the means of recording it. Grammar is about the spoken language, which should be the language we hear in our mind's ear when we read. If we're reading good writing, anyway. – John Lawler Jul 1 '14 at 15:03
  • @JohnLawler, could you comment on this, please: a while ago, I got involved in an argument about spelling. It centred [as so often] on apostrophes, with me arguing that distinguishing dogs, dog's and dogs' was pointless, since spelling is spotsa [thanks for that] represent speech, and they all sound the same. I was shouted down, on the grounds that spoken and written English should be treated as two variants of the language, with different rules. – David Garner Mar 4 '16 at 15:36
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    That's "sposta", of course. – David Garner Mar 4 '16 at 19:02
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It's not a general rule about th sounds. It depends on the actual word.

If it's the first two letters of them, you can reduce it, except in fairly formal speech.

Run 'em all together.

Similarly, you can reduce the first letter of her and him. But this doesn't apply to all th sounds:

The house 'at Jack built,
Jill is smarter 'n Jack,

both sound much more informal to me than dropping the th in them, although I expect both these reductions are common in informal speech. And

somewhere in 'air.

for "somewhere in there" just sounds wrong to me.

These are essentially weak forms of the words. Lots of structural words in English have weak forms; for example, there are weak forms of that, than, but, and just where the vowel changes to a schwa. These weak forms are perfectly acceptable in formal English. (And I believe these are often taught in ESL classes.)

The weak forms created by changing them, him, and her to /əm/, /əm/, and /ər/ are not quite as formal, but I would think they are acceptable in all but the most formal situations. The weak forms created by changing that and than to /ət/ and /ən/ are definitely informal, but still widely used in informal speech. And there is no weak form of there that is missing 'th'.

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I am writing my answer with respect to the "duplicate" question that links to this one, as found here:

Why do English people pronounce 'sixth' as 'sicth'?

The fact is that not all English people pronounce "sixth" as "sicth" but it is common and it is of course wrong. Here is an example of the word spoken correctly by two English speakers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_hit23Tyak&t=2m40s

The first speaker over articulates the word, hinting in my opinion to the fact that they find the word difficult to pronounce. The second speaker's pronunciation is fast and spot on.

Here however, I hear something along the lines of "sicth"/"sick"/"six":

There is a tongue twister including the word sixth: The sixth sheik's sixth sheep's sick.

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I am a native English speaker (not American English). That sounds like casually spoken language to me, rather than something to do a formal situation. I don't know what an American would think.

  • 3
    As an American, I agree. Dropping sounds tends to be casual; in more formal situations, you would enunciate more clearly. – Keith B Jan 7 '14 at 18:00
  • I have always pronounced all consonants in sixth and first encountered sikth at a private school in the same geographical area I'm from. – Simon Hoare Sep 18 '16 at 19:29

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