Using a relaxed and natural speaking style facilitates approachable and confident speech. Contractions, syllable reductions, h-reductions, and linking all contribute to more conversational speech. However, speech that is too casual- such as leaving off the -ing ending (talkin’ vs. talking) or using grammatically incorrect sentence structures, such as “me and Joe,” can sabotage the message and detract from a professional image. How can you utilize “casual” speech without derailing your professional image? Here are some of our tips:
1. Contractions: Unless you are writing your dissertation, applying for an NIH grant, or writing a very formal document, contractions are preferred in some writing and most speaking situations.
For example: - Can you grab a coffee before the meeting?” - “Sorry. I cannot go with you.” (This sounds formal and stilted). - “Sorry- I can’t, but thanks for asking.” (This sounds more natural and conversational).
2. H-reductions: Usually pronouns such as he, his, her, etc. are not critical to the meaning of a sentence. Since they start with an “h,” and require a lot of breath support, they are often reduced by eliminating the “h” when the pronoun occurs in the middle or end of a sentence. For example, instead of saying, “Is this her house?” we often say “Is this ‘er house?” so we can emphasize the important word in the sentence. We may stress the pronoun for emphasis or contrastive stress, e.g., "This is her house, not his."
3. Syllable reductions: Although there are some regional variations/preferences, we often eliminate the weakest syllable in some words with 3 or more syllables. For example, even though these words are spelled as if they have 3 syllables. we don’t say the middle syllable. e.g. choc(o)late, bus(i)ness, Cath(o)lic. Many words that have a vowel + R in the weakest syllable are reduced (favorite, respiratory, difference ) .
4. Linking consonant to consonant: A smooth connection within and across words is critical for fluency. Even though we strive to clearly pronounce the ends of words, there are times where the beginnings and endings are assimilated. For example, if one word ends with the same sound as the word that follows (or a cognate pair such as s/z, f/v, t/d, p/b, k/g), we often blend them together and only say the sound once (by Joseph). For example, team member sounds like "teaMember" or bus stop, sounds like "buStop," "laughvery loudly," hotdog."
5. Linking consonant to vowel: Connect the final consonant with the following word beginning with a vowel if it is not divided by punctuation, such as a comma or period, e.g., "was . . . open." When the final consonant is a "t," the pronunciation changes to a flap /t/ to link the words, e.g., "a lot . . . of" sounds like "aloddof."
6. Liaisons: When words ending in /d/ are followed by "Y", as in the phrases would you; could you and should you, the two words are connected and they form a "J" sound, e.g., "wouldjew."
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