I'm going to be teaching English to French high school students for another year in September, and they all have a hard time with my variety of English (they're used to hearing British English). Specifically, they have trouble with my pronunciation of /t/, vowel sounds, and my merging of words when speaking at a normal pace. I want to be more aware of these phonetic 'phenomenon' so that I can explain them to the students to help them better understand me.

An example sentence that demonstrates all three phonetic issues:

Insert it into the computer.

The "standard" phonetic transcription for this sentence in American English is:

Insert it into the computer.

/ɪnˈsɜrt ɪt ˈɪntu ðə kəmˈpjutər/

I'm from Michigan, and we have a tendency to replace /t/ with /d/, schwa-ify a ton of vowels, and eliminate spacing between words. So I would pronounce the above as:

Insert it into the computer.

[ɪnˈsɜrdɪdɪndəðə kəmˈpjutər]

The first change is /t/ to /d/ - this I know is called flapping, specifically the flapped /t/. So I'm really just curious about the second two: replacing vowels with /ə/, and the elimination of spacing between words (liaison-ification of words?).

As far as my phonology education goes, /ə/ is the most common vowel sound in English, so it's not surprising that I tend to replace vowels with it. But I'm not sure if there is a proper phonologic term to describe that process. As for eliminating spacing/making liaisons between words, I have no idea what that would be called.

What are the names of the other two phonetic changes in the above sentence?

  • Get yourself a copy of J.C. Catford's A Practical Introduction to Phonetics. It's made for autodidacts, and it's full of little experiments you can do (or have your class do) to understand how pronunciation actually works. Aug 26 '18 at 20:10
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    I am not sure Michiganers run words any more together than other Americans to deserve a different transcription. Aug 26 '18 at 23:39
  • @AzorAhai Perhaps, but I’ve travelled very little in the U.S., so I’m not very familiar with people from i.e. California. When I was in New York, people seemed to speak a lot more slowly and concisely than most people I know from Michigan. I figured I may as well clarify where I’m from in case it matters (and look, one of the answers actually hit on that point!) Aug 26 '18 at 23:44
  • @Chris Oh, not definitely there are features of the Midwest dialect that you may be picking up on when you wrote that transcription, but I'm just saying with regards to "eliminate spacing between words," I'm not sure its meaningful. Aug 26 '18 at 23:45
  • @AzorAhai I don’t know if I agree with that... I have been to New York, my sister is in a relationship with a guy from California, and I have friends in southern states. No person I’ve talked to in those 3 areas of the U.S. do nearly as much “elimination” as I and other people from Michigan do. Maybe my experience is just coincidence, but I feel that it’s a meaningful distinction, especially for non-native speakers. Aug 26 '18 at 23:49

Changing vowels to schwas is called vowel reduction, and it's incredibly common for most English speakers (not just people from Michigan).


Running the words together is called connected speech (not very technical-sounding!), which is also a feature of most English dialects.

As a fellow Michigan native, I will add that one other thing to be aware of in your example sentence, related to the flapped /t/, is consonant cluster reduction. Specifically, speakers in the Great Lakes area often reduce inter-syllabic /nt/ to just /n/ when it's followed by a schwa. So "into" becomes /ˈɪnə/, "interstate" becomes /ɪnərsteɪt/, etc. Some individuals do this much more than others, so it's just something to watch for in your own speech. For example, I'm pretty sure I say /ɪntrested/, not /ɪnər(e)stəd/, but I definitely say /ˈɪnə/ when speaking casually rather than /ˈɪntu/ or even /ˈɪndə/—but I wasn't aware of any of this until a friend from Ohio pointed it out (he does it even more than I do).

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