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I just came across a listening practice and heard a sentence

People spend their lives working for money, rather than living out their dreams.

It seems that the word 'living out' was pronounced like' 'livi-nout', because as far as I know, the ng sound can not be the start of a syllable.

What's going on?

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  • the ng sound can not be the start of a syllable You mean like Eng-lish?
    – deadrat
    Aug 9, 2016 at 7:46
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    English is start with /i/
    – Henry Wang
    Aug 9, 2016 at 8:00
  • Seems like a classic instance of ellision. It often happens unintentionally when a speaker is speaking too quickly. The speaker might not even have known s/he did it.
    – cobaltduck
    Aug 10, 2016 at 17:12
  • If the /g/ in living is ellided, then the lack of two consonant sounds at the end of the syllable tends to shift the sound to the next syllable. What was /cv.cvcc vc/ becomes /cv.cv cvc/ (v = vowel, c = consonant). This happens as a rule withing words, and can happen between words as well. Some dialects of English pronounce living as livin' - using an alveolar /n/ instead of a velar /ng/. In which case there is no problem using the /n/ sound as the onset to the next syllable. Also see liaison
    – Phil Sweet
    Sep 9, 2016 at 20:54
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    If a native speaker were to do that, it would likely sound more like "liveen gout". The g would not be lost, but it might seem to transfer to the next syllable. It would be similar to "Long Island" sounding like "lawn guyland".
    – fixer1234
    Apr 8, 2017 at 8:07

2 Answers 2

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In ordinary speech, there would not be a pause or gap between "living" and "out." They would form a continuous sequence of sound. How you choose to split this sequence into syllables is more a matter of phonological theory than of phonetics. There is no consensus on how English syllabifies consonants that come between two vowels.

You may have heard /n/ rather than the "ng" sound; this is not related to syllabification. It's an example of "g-dropping," where the suffix "ing" is pronounced with /n/ rather than the "ng" sound. This can occur regardless of the following sound--it would also be possible in "living room."

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You can link those two words together. I'm not a native speaker, but I guess that's how native speakers would usually pronounce it.

I've also read somewhere that the NG sound /ŋ/ can't start a syllable, but I guess this is just an observation about English words, at least not applicable to words derived by adding -ing (e.g. sing /sɪŋ/ -> singing /sɪŋɪŋ/) or to this type of linking two words together.

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