66

In linguistics, is there a term describing this phenomenon, i.e., when the syllables of two words are slurred together in the spoken language? They are not contractions. While contractions are acceptable in any register, this combination of words is very informal and hardly ever found in formal writing.

kinda (kind of)

sorta (sort of)

coulda (could have)

shoulda (should have)

lotta (lot of)

oughta (ought to)

betcha (bet you)

lemme (let me)

tseasy (it's easy)

willya (will you)

Inasmuch as English Language speakers (just like the speakers of any natural language) have a tendency to join word sounds in speech, examples abound and a complete list would be hard to produce .

I’m looking for a word or phrase describing this linguistic phenomenon as it occurs in speech.

  • 13
    oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/kinda indicates that it's a contraction. I don't think that they're not contractions simply because they aren't permissible in formal writing, whereas other contractions are--they're just particularly informal contractions. – Yee-Lum Dec 25 '15 at 23:10
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    I would call them contractions. – Hot Licks Dec 25 '15 at 23:18
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    @Mitch - I would guess even the Queen uses a contraction every now and then. Some wilder ones are "discouraged", but common ones are perfectly "proper" (if you're not Commander Data). – Hot Licks Dec 26 '15 at 2:15
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    The bizarre thing is that even though all these are perfectly common and normal to say, actually writing them is something else entirely. Our writing and our speech diverge enormously. – tchrist Dec 26 '15 at 3:20
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    @Joe Blow Betcha it is. Sometimes, at least. – Euan M Dec 27 '15 at 2:22
33

In the spoken language, these examples are strings of words where the realisation of the strings in speech is quite different from the citation forms of the individual words. A citation form is the phonetic form of the word when we mention the word without using it in its normal sense. So for example we might say:

  • This is the word "can".

Here the item can isn't being used in the same way that it is when we say She can dance for example. The citation forms of function words (the kind of words that concern grammar more than vocabulary) often differ from the forms we hear in normal speech. One reason for this is that they are stressed when we cite them and often aren't when we actually use them.

So in the first example, for instance, we see kinda which is an orthographic rendering of the string /kaɪnd ə/. Here you will notice that the word of is represented by /ə/ and not by /ɒv/, the citation form of the word. In the example betcha we see that /j/, the sound represented in writing by the letter Y appears to have changed into a /tʃ/ so that we have the form /betʃə/ instead of /bet ju:/. The string /bet ju:/ is what we would expect if we added the citation forms of bet and you together.

The orthographic items in the Original Question illustrate two aspects of English phonetics and phonology. The first is the occurrence of WEAK FORMS in the language. The second is the existence of FAST SPEECH RULES or CONNECTED SPEECH PROCESSES, also sometimes referred to as PHONOSTYLISTIC RULES.

Weak forms

English is a 'stress-timed' language. What this means is that the syllables in English utterances do not come at regular intervals in the way that they do in Japanese for example, or in Spanish. Instead English utterances give the impression that the stressed syllables come at regular intervals. In actual fact this is not strictly what's happening, in the sense that although they give this impression, the stressed syllables do not occur at strictly regular intervals at all.

The effect of this is that words that don't carry stress in English are much less prominent than stressed ones. Now, all the material coming in between the stressed syllables of English utterances needs to be said more rapidly so that the stressed syllables don't get pushed apart. We don't want to spoil the stress-timed effect. One of the mechanisms that English has for achieving this is that finicky grammar words - auxiliary verbs, pronouns, prepositions, infinitival-to and so forth - tend to have two forms. They have a so-called strong form when they are stressed. This is the same as the citation form. And they also have a weak form, one with a reduced vowel, normally a schwa, /ə/, that we use when they aren't stressed (strictly speaking, there may be several weak forms of a single word). So the citation form of can, for example, is /kæn/ and the weak form is /kn/ or /kən/. The weak form of to is /tə/.

The realisation of the weak forms of these words can be subject to complex rules and depend, for example, on whether an item is utterance initial or not. So, to illustrate, the weak form of the word he in Southern Standard British English is /hi/ when utterance initial and /i/ when not. In slow careful speech, the weak form of of in English is /əv/. However, in rapid or relaxed speech it may be realised by either /v/ or /ə/. So the string man of may be realised as:

  • /mæn əv/
  • /mæn v/
  • /mæn ə/

Interestingly, the weak forms of the auxiliary verb have may be realised in the same ways when not sentence initial. So weak have and of are often homophonous in English (hence people's occasionally writing could of been there instead of could have been there and so forth).

So in rapid speech the strings kind of, sort of, lot of may all occur with the word of represented just by a schwa, giving us: /kaɪnd ə/, /sɔ:t ə/ or /lɒt ə/. The strings could have and should have may be similarly be realised as /kʊd ə/ or /ʃʊd ə/

Is there a name for such strings relating to spoken English? I don't think so (of course an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, there might be one that I haven't come across). The reason is that they are all just examples of a word followed by a weak form of another word. They are two-word strings. Their unifying feature is the occurrence of weak forms, in particular those found in rapid or relaxed speech.

Connected speech rules

Connected speech rules often concern the elision, assimilation and coalescence of sounds when words are used in actual utterances. These are often dependent on the environment in which these sounds occur.

One example of such a transformation is what's known as COALESCENT ASSIMILATION. The adjustments we make to be able to pass smoothly from one sound to another sometimes result in a third different sound taking the place of the two original sounds. This happens very often in English when some consonant is followed by a /j/, the sound at the beginning of the word yoyo. It is often referred to as YOD COALESCENCE. Relevant to us right now is the fact that a sequence of /t/ and /j/ often results in a new sound /tʃ/ (the first sound in the word chair) which replaces the original two segments. So the sequence last year may be realised as /la:stʃɪə/, "las cheer". [SSBE transcription]

In rapid speech the sequence bet you is likely to be realised as /betʃə/ (or /betʃu/) where the /t/ from bet and the /j/ from you are subject to coalescent assimilation. The weak form of the word you is often realised as /jə/. The string /betʃə/ therefore involves both a weak form and coalescent assimilation.

The orthographic items oughta and lemme can also be analysed using connected speech processes in conjunction with weak forms. To cut a long story short, with regard to oughta, for example, the weak form of to is /tə/. Along with a process of degemination (the reduction of a cluster of two identical consonants into a single length consonant), this gives us the form /ɔ:tə/.

So what then?

It seems that the orthographic items listed in the original question have something in common, which is that they exhibit features of English seen in connected speech, and to varying degrees more often in relaxed or rapid speech. The realisations of the orthographic items oughta, betcha and lemme display the feature of two words sharing a single phoneme. The /t/ in oughta belongs both to the word ought and the word to. The same also goes for the /tʃ/ in betcha and arguably the /m/ in lemme. There may well be a word for pairs of words that share a consonant like this (it isn't quite the same thing as liaison). Unfortunately, I don't know it. However, this phenomenon doesn't seem to be something special to do with these items in particular. It's happening for different reasons in each case in our examples.

In terms of speech these three examples don't seem to share all that much with the examples with have or of. The latter just seem to be sequences of two words, despite the orthography.

One thing we might say is that in careful, slow speech some of these sequences will not be a feature of many speakers of Southern Standard British English or General American, even if they do occur in their rapid speech, or relaxed speech. They could therefore be umbrellaed under what has been described (and referred to here in another answer) as relaxed pronunciation.

Here is the Wikipedia introduction to relaxed pronunciation:

Relaxed pronunciation (also called condensed pronunciation or word slurs) is a phenomenon that happens when the syllables of common words are slurred together. It is almost always present in normal speech, in all natural languages but not in some constructed languages, such as Loglan or Lojban, which are designed so that all words are parsable.

Some shortened forms of words and phrases, such as contractions or weak forms can be considered to derive from relaxed pronunciations, but a phrase with a relaxed pronunciation is not the same as a contraction. In English, where contractions are common, they are considered part of the standard language and accordingly used in many contexts (except on very formal speech or in formal/legal writing); however, relaxed pronunciation is markedly informal in register. This is also sometimes reflected in writing: contractions have a standard written form, but relaxed pronunciations may not, outside of eye dialect.

I am not personally familiar with relaxed pronunciation as a technical term. And I don't vouch for Wikipedia as a source. However, some of the editors and commentators on that specific Wikipedia page are professional phoneticians. In particular Peter Roach, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at the University of Reading, and author of English Phonetics and Phonology has commented on the page offering constructive criticism. I therefore suggest that these are all examples of RELAXED PRONUNCIATION. As the Original Poster points out, in term of speech as opposed to orthography, they aren't contractions.

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    TL;DR: They are examples of relaxed pronunciation. – ermanen Dec 28 '15 at 17:35
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    Sometimes contractions/weak forms can become slightly divorced from the original form and appear in contexts where it doesn't seem likely that they are a phonological reduction of some underlying string. For example, "you betcha" is a common phrase but "you bet you" sounds nonsensical. Similarly, "Don't you like it?" sounds natural but "Do not you like it?" sounds ungrammatical or perhaps archaic. – Peter Olson Dec 29 '15 at 8:58
48

Short answer:It's a contraction.

These are modified in pronunciation beyond the more normal form's simple truncation, but they are the same thing, fundamentally.

Essentially, it's a form of contraction that has been informally promoted to a word.

(yes, that's a neologism as mentioned in the comments)


Support:

Oxford calls it contraction.

Definition of kinda in English: contraction

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/kinda

They also define the term as follows:

1.3The process of shortening a word by combination or elision.

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/contraction

Then there was this:

A contraction is a word that is formed by combining two or more words which often occur together in speech. In the process of this combining, one or more segments (i.e. vowels and/or consonants) of the component words are phonetically altered, reduced, or omitted entirely...

Informal contractions (not in most dictionaries) Beyond the recognized contractions that are acceptable in writing, there are a number of informal contractions, such as going to → gonna, want to → wanna, should have → shoulda, have to → hafta, kind of → kinda, sort of → sorta.

http://homepage.ntu.edu.tw/~karchung/intro%20page%2033.htm

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    These aren't contractions they are just weak forms of the word of or have used in fast speech, or they are examples of assimilation or coalescent assimilation. They don't result in the loss of a syllable or in a single constituent of a phrase. The only thing that's odd about them is the orthography. – Araucaria Dec 26 '15 at 12:08
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    "They're" is pronounced as two syllables or one, depending on dialect, but I understand it to be a contraction in either case. I don't think that removal of entire syllables is definitional. (Feel free to toss out a reference if that's wrong.) – The Nate Dec 26 '15 at 17:31
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    @Araucaria - I don't want to debate this too lengthily; the Wiki post was just convenient vexample. A few more: Lobeck & Denham label hafta as a "phonological contraction"; WInkler differentiates between contractions that are "both official (like isn't) and unofficial (like hafta)"; Payne & Payne say that words like gonna are "common but phonologically idiosyncratic contractions." Anyhow, I never claimed you were in the minority, I just thought your initial comment ("These aren't contractions") was a bit strong and merited a counter opinion, but I wouldn't wanna be dogmatic either way. – J.R. Dec 26 '15 at 18:57
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    @J.R. And oughta is an extremely edge case! I'm not after a long discusssion (though I don't mind chatting should the feeling take you!). But it is my duty to point this out in the interests of readers here. This highly upvoted answer is incorrect. :( – Araucaria Dec 26 '15 at 19:22
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    If this answer is misusing the term "contraction", then I think the only way to combat that is to provide a clear explanation of the proper meaning of that term. Merely asserting that the term applies to "hafta" but not (or only marginally) to "oughtta" isn't getting the job done of convincing people to use it in whatever technical sense Araucaria wants. – Steve Jessop Dec 27 '15 at 1:29
14

They are eye-dialect spellings designed to make the ordinary way these phrases are spoken appear careless or substandard.

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    I don't believe John Lawler considers that (1) the pronunciations and (2) the written attempts to reproduce these are substandard. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 26 '15 at 0:14
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    @EdwinAshworth I don't consider them so either; I use them frequently in my own communications. But most writers use them in contrast to the standard written forms not to indicate actual pronunciation but to suggest that actual pronunciation is substandard. – StoneyB Dec 26 '15 at 0:55
  • Stoney - surely this is wrong dude. "the ordinary way these phrases are spoken" .. not so; people started specifically saying "kinda" as a slang word around (it appears) the late 1800s. When one says "kinda" today one is specifically saying "kinda!", you're not "quickly saying 'kind of'". I think. – Fattie Dec 26 '15 at 23:58
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    @JoeBlow Of was already being truncated in the 16th century: What kind o' man is he? -Twelfth Night,I,5 – StoneyB Dec 27 '15 at 1:19
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    @JoeBlow It's kinda wrong... – Michael Dec 27 '15 at 17:54
13

It can be described as a relaxed pronunciation type of elision.

  • I actually voted this up, but I'm not completely convinced, given there's more transformation than reduction going on. It's clearly related and arguable, so I would like a touch more elaboration on the point, as well. – The Nate Dec 27 '15 at 2:23
13

In light of Auracaria's and your comments below, consider calling these linguistic reductions.

Linguistic reductions are lost sounds in words. This happens in spoken English. For instance, "going to" changes to "gonna". The most widely known reductions are contractions. Most contractions are reductions of 'not'. For instance, "cannot" becomes "can't". Many contractions are reductions between a subject and a verb. For instance, "He is..." becomes "He's..."

Some reductions are well known to language learners; for instance the reduction of a verb and "to". Examples are "going to" becoming "gonna" and "want to" becoming "wanna".

Linguistic reductions are part of natural English. They cannot be considered slang, or improper.

Wikipedia

Gonna, gotta and wanna are not contractions.

Contractions are shortenings like aren’t and can’t. The missing letters have been replaced by an apostrophe, and the original words are discernible in the contraction.

Contractions are acceptable in all but the most formal writing. Here are a few standard contractions:

aren’t = are not [...]

The spellings gonna, gotta, and wanna, on the other hand, do not preserve the shape of the words they represent. They are not contractions, but reductions.

A linguistic reduction is the result of relaxed pronunciation. All speakers of all languages slur sounds and words together. Doing so is a normal part of spoken language. The more informal the situation, the more slurring goes on.

DailyWritingTips

  • These aren't contractions they are just weak forms of the word of or have used in fast speech, or they are examples of assimilation or coalescent assimilation. They don't result in the loss of a syllable or in a single constituent of a phrase. The only thing that's odd about them is the orthography. – Araucaria Dec 26 '15 at 12:21
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    @Araucaria - This answer specifies informal contractions, which is differentiated from dictionary-recognized contractions at the link provided. It's good reading. Moreover, NOAD defines contraction as "a word or group of words resulting from shortening an original form." Given that broad definition, I think it's hard to contend that "these aren't contractions." – J.R. Dec 26 '15 at 17:50
  • The very link you provided states that these are not contractions. – Centaurus Dec 27 '15 at 1:03
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    @Araucaria and Elian - My question is about a term for this phenomenon in the spoken language. – Centaurus Dec 27 '15 at 1:07
7

I wasn't gonna enter this fray, but I've decided to do some digging.

First of all, what's a contraction? There are plenty of definitions out there, and, taken as a whole, they leave much wiggle room.

I don't know how authoritative this is, but I liked the way contractions were described in a link found in an earlier answer:

A contraction is a word that is formed by combining two or more words which often occur together in speech. In the process of this combining, one or more segments (i.e. vowels and/or consonants) of the component words are phonetically altered, reduced, or omitted entirely.

It goes on to divide contractions into two families:

  • Dictionary-recognized contractions, which are "well established and are included in dictionaries, such as do not → don't, I am → I'm, it is → it's, we would → we'd."

  • Informal contractions, which are "not in most dictionaries," and "beyond the recognized contractions that are acceptable in writing ... such as going to → gonna, want to → wanna, should have → shoulda, have to → hafta, kind of → kinda, sort of → sorta.

Put that way, I have no problem labeling these as informal contractions. However, one ELUer went so far to say that this categorization was "horribly wrong ... and will therefore misinform thousands of readers in the future." (That sounds a bit melodramatic to me, but that's what the comment says.)

Up in the comments to the original question, the what's-a-contraction conflagration continued:

betcha is not at all a contraction for "bet you". The form has become kind of a snowclone (or whatever the ... best term is). We now GENERATE words "in this style", such as lotsa and so on. – Joe Blow

@Joe Blow Betcha it is. Sometimes, at least. – Euan M

So, I looked up the troublesome betcha on OneLook, and followed the links. A couple dictionaries indeed labeled this a contraction, while others carefully danced around the contraction label, using terms like informal, eye dialect, slang, and spoken. Although it doesn't get its own listing in the OED, it does get a mention there as a "corrupt" form of bet you.

For what it's worth, OED does list shoulda (as "repr. colloq. or vulgar pronunc. of should have") while hafta also gets its own entry (and is labeled with "Representing a colloquial or regional pronunciation of have to"). The OED lists coulda as a "colloq. shortening of (I) could have."

None of those OED entries mention the c-word (contraction); shoulda and hafta get dissected in the OED as one being vulgar, and one being regional. The overlaps between terms like "informal" and "vulgar" were discussed in this ELU question ("informal" > "colloquial" > "slang" > "vulgar"), but the term regional only gets mentioned in a couple comments there, one of which says:

I believe "colloquial" has connotations of "provincial" or "regional", i.e. informal language which is peculiar to a certain geographical area.

But the other reads:

A colloquialism is not regional but conversational, typically with an informal context.

Back to the original question:

In linguistics, is there a term describing this phenomenon, i.e., when the syllables of two words are slurred together in the spoken language? They are not contractions.

I don't think there is a term describing this, but I think there are several that can be used. Lemme list a dozen:

  • informal contractions1
  • colloquialisms2
  • eye dialect3 (when this slurred-together speech is converted to written form)
  • a contracted form that is not acceptable in standard use4
  • informal English5
  • slang6
  • a short form7
  • written form of a reduction8
  • dialectal9
  • a verbal phrase representing casual pronunciation10
  • relaxed pronunciation11
  • vulgar pronunciation12

The scholarly merits of each of these terms could be debated individually, but, the fact is, all of these terms have been used to one extent or another to categorize words such as gonna, coulda, oughta, and lotta – you betcha they have.

2

Purely for the record, many would simply consider these

slang

(surprisingly the word "slang" hasn't been mentioned at all here so I thought I'd put it in FTR.)

{Unfortunately the various online slang dictionaries are of low quality, so it's pointless asserting that "these appear in slang dictionaries."}

As has been mentioned, they are mostly marked as simply "contraction informal" in most dictionaries.

It seems to me they indeed obviously started as contractions, but, they are far more than that. (I think dictionaries that simply mark them as "contraction" are being lazy.)

The origin seems to be very late 1800s, I bet, rather around the time the US was generating a lot of slang, such as "OK" and "you bet".

Note that "kinda" for example simply and literally is not a contraction of "kind of". "Kindohhh" or indeed "kindfff" or perhaps "ki'off" would be contractions of "kind of".

Indeed, one could easily argue that "kinda" and friends are precisely like the group where you stick an "ee" on the end of a word to make a "kiddie version" ("doggie," et cetera).

For me, the "ahh on the end" formula is another formation, very much like the "ee on the end" formation.

For me, the "ee on the end" formation (doggie, beddie, etc) implies a baby or child talk.

For me the "ahh on the end" formation implies a rather "easy-going" type of vibe (sort of a "1800s slacker" thing! indeed very much like "OK").

For example, when "-ahh" words like these are made-up today ("I work on Wall St .. I'm a banka, whoo!") the implication is a distinction from formality.

Indeed, come to think of it, I feel that the "a" ending thing from the 1980s ("gansta" etc) is the same phenomenon. (It's "deliberately uneducated sounding" with an angry edge, whereas the earlier "kinda" et cetera were in 1900 "deliberately uneducated sounding" with a relaxed edge.)

  • 1
    Plus one, as the definition of slang basically appears in the question: "very informal and hardly ever found in formal writing". – Mazura Dec 27 '15 at 0:28
  • Quite right, I didn't think of that. – Fattie Dec 27 '15 at 0:30
  • I like you putting them in the slang category, but I'm not sure I can fully ascribe to the notion that kinda is "is not a contraction of kind of." NOAD lists kind of as an informal phrase meaning "rather; to some extent (often expressing vagueness) : it got kind of cozy." I agree that "kinda" would not be a contraction if I asked you, "What kinda ice cream do want?" but when I say, "I kinda get what you mean," I think that's a whole different animal. – J.R. Dec 27 '15 at 0:38
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    JR - here's an amazing fact I just realized. Indeed, 'kind of' is sometimes contracted, when you are speaking very quickly ..... to kindvv ...!!! I really feel "kinda" is a totally different word. "Do you like that guy?!" "Hmm, Kinda!" It has a whole meaning you know? In contrast she may reply (if additionally speaking very quickly) "I kindvv lykim". Just as "yes" and "yeah" are after all different words with different shades of meaning. Of course, opinions may differ. – Fattie Dec 27 '15 at 0:41
  • "Kinda" just comes from "kind of" with the /v/ sound dropped. The "uh" sound at the end doesn't make it related to words like "gangsta" and "banka", any more than it's related to "comma" or "sigma." They end with the same sound--that's it. @J.R. How is it a whole different animal? It gives a different flavor to the speech, and may even indicate a different meaning through this, but it's always possible (at least for me) to replace "kinda" with "kind of" and get a grammatical sentence. "What kind of ice cream do you want?" "I kind of get what you mean," and "Hmm, kind of!" are all OK sentences. – sumelic Dec 27 '15 at 7:36
1

To me, these are colloquialisms:

A colloquialism is a word, phrase or other form used in informal language. Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. as an identifier.

protected by Centaurus Mar 25 '16 at 16:31

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