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I’m Chinese and am learning English. When I watch video materials from US and UK, I've noticed a phenomenon: in British, a word may sound much different when it's said in a sentence compared to when it’s spoken solely.

For example, when saying dangerous [ˈdeɪndʒərəs] all by itself as a single word, British English pronunciation is identical to American English. But when in a sentence, British English tend to stretch the [rə] to a longer duration, and with an ascending tone from start to finish.

This brings learners difficulties. Even if I can say each word correctly, when I say a sentence word by word, with necessary liaison of course, it still sounds “strange”. It's not far from an American accent, but very different to what a native speaker from the United Kingdom would say. I see more such variation in intonation in British English than I hear in American English.

I wanna know:

  1. Is it true about the pronunciation variation, what's the proper name of it, so I can research on it.
  2. Is there a pattern/rule on the variation to memorize?
  3. Is the variation the main contributor to the accent difference.

Any clue is welcome, not necessarily an answer. Links, resources, wikis, ideas, anything.

Example: in this video: around 03:05 when he says:

This is going to be dangerous.

I know words sound different in sentences than when said individually — this happens in all languages. To be more specific, what I want to know is the difference between the ways British English and American English handle this intonation change. How can I learn the British accent?

  • Is dangerous somehow acquiring secondary stress on the last syllable? That's the only thing that I can think of that would account for it. If you actually gave us the sentences that you hear this happening in, it would help. How much stress a syllable gets depends on the stress on the syllables around it. I can't imagine you'd stretch the /rəs/ in, say a dangerous man. But maybe in a dangerous experiment. – Peter Shor Aug 13 '17 at 14:55
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    Of course words sound different in sentences than individually. Words link up together in speech, and there are patterns in every language about how it is done. The key word is phonology; specifically, the phenomenon of sandhi, a Sanskrit word. Much the same thing is true of Mandarin -- even if I can say every word with the correct tone, when they go together in a sentence things happen to the tones ("tone sandhi"), which often makes it difficult for native speakers to understand Western Mandarin learners, and vice versa. – John Lawler Aug 13 '17 at 15:00
  • 'The' can be pronounced 'thuh' or 'thee', depending on the sentence – marcellothearcane Aug 13 '17 at 15:18
  • @PeterShor like in this video: around 03:05 . "It's gonna be dangerous". Maybe it's not stress, it's like "stretching", hard to describe, but you'll know what I mean when you check it out. – matrix Aug 13 '17 at 15:28
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    @Lawrence If you listen to the clip you will immediately recognize that this is just uptalk? :) – tchrist Aug 13 '17 at 16:43
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In a comment John Lawler wrote:

Of course words sound different in sentences than individually. Words link up together in speech, and there are patterns in every language about how it is done. The key word is phonology; specifically, the phenomenon of sandhi, a Sanskrit word. Much the same thing is true of Mandarin -- even if I can say every word with the correct tone, when they go together in a sentence things happen to the tones ("tone sandhi"), which often makes it difficult for native speakers to understand Western Mandarin learners, and vice versa.

  • The original post might be misleading, I updated it. – matrix Aug 13 '17 at 16:11
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    @matrix Oh I see. That isn't something special to British English. It isn't even part of an accent at all. Rather, it’s an example of uptalk, sometimes more formally called high rising terminal or high rising intonation. I strongly advise against attempting to emulate it. For one thing, it can come across as a speaker who’s unconfident in themselves, and for another it’s often perceived as being something that young girls do more than educated adults. Reality is more complex that that, but it still shouldn't be part of learning an accent. – tchrist Aug 13 '17 at 16:38

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