For obvious reasons, most of the exercises for this module are audio exercises. It really doesn’t matter if you can tell the difference between a flap and a glottal stop, between a schwa and a different vowel (or if you are familiar with this terminology) — just if you can get a sense of how formal or informal the speech is.
For each block quote, consider how you could make it sound moderately less formal, or extremely informal. Try rewriting it, altering the spellings to match your target pronunciations. Remember that for the purposes of this exercise, you are not supposed to change the words — just the pronunciations.
What are you doing?
At its most formal, this would be pronounced with the /t/ and the /ng/ intact and each word distinct. Less formally, it could be “What’re ya doin’?” “Wadayadoin?”, or (highly informally) as “Whatchadoin’?”
Would you like to meet for coffee tomorrow? I’m not that busy at the office right now, so I can sneak out any time.
A very formal pronunciation would keep each word distinct, pronouncing all the final T sounds. Less formally, you could “swallow” (glottalize) the final T sounds in meet, not, that, right, and/or out, and reduce the vowels in you & to. Wouldya liketa mee? for coffee tomorrow? I’m no?tha?busy a?the office righ?now, so I can sneak ou? any time. For the least formal style, you could use “wouldja.”
Who do you think left his wallet on the table? Should I try to find a policeman to give it to?
For a less formal feel, you could reduce the vowels in do, you and to, delete the H in his, “swallow” (glottalize) the T at the end of wallet. Whodaya think left’is walle? on the table? Should I tryta finda policeman ta give it to? For the least formal style, you could use “whodja.”
She said she thought The Cat in the Hat was the best book ever written. I probably shouldn’t have laughed so hard at that.
For a less formal feel, you could avoid all crisp T sounds. For the least formal style, you could say “prolly shouldna.”
You’re sitting in my seat, you know!
If you wished to demonstrate how annoyed you were about someone sitting in your seat, you would say this slowly and carefully, with falling intonation, pronouncing the /ng/, pronouncing a crisp T at the end of “seat.” If you wished to be more casual about the situation, showing that you’re not upset (although you might still want to reclaim your seat), you could substitute -in’, swallow the T and reduce the vowels: yer sittin’ in my sea?, ya know. If you wanted to make it absolutely clear that you are just teasing (and/or flirting), and that you really don’t care about the seat at all, you would want to say this as informally as possible, including substituting “ch” for the /ty/ combination, and having a big final rise in the sentence: yer sittin’ in my seatcha know!
Exercise: Pronunciation as Key to Formality
Here are two audio clips from the same speaker. Based on the pronunciation features, do you think the speaker is trying to be formal or informal? What specific pronunciations indicate the level of formality? What does this tell you about his purpose in saying this, or who he may be speaking to?
The first sounds angry. He’s speaking “heatedly,” with great intensity, raised pitch, and volume. In BOTH clips, he uses informal pronunciations, since he’s talking to peers, but in the first clip, you can hear the tension in the initial sounds of “put” “bio,” and “teachers,” which sound “spit out.”
Exercise: Interpreting Subtle Shifts in Pronunciation
In each of these audio clips, the speaker shifts pronunciation, increasing or decreasing the level of formality. For each, identify when the shift occurs as best you can (it may not be a sudden, abrupt change), whether the speaker gets more or less formal, and how you would interpret the shift.
He starts fairly formally, both in word choices (“ancillary,” e.g.) and pronunciation (very distinct crisp T at the end of “that” and “recent,” slow rate of speech with words spaced out). He gets progressively less formal starting at “But! If you do searches on here….” There is no crisp T at the end of “but” (and no more crisp T at the ends of syllables from this point on) and he begins to speak more quickly. The switch seems to signal that he has finished giving her the important new information (what the blog is), and has now shifted to more friendly advice. There is an even further shift to greater informality right at the end when he says “so um, so yes, we’ll totally send you this one, for sure.” The second T in “totally” is flapped, all the vowels that can be reduced have been reduced (lots of schwas!), and there is unnecessary contrastive stress. The interpretation here would seem to be that this is a “throw-away” line to signal the end of the topic, with no important new information.
They are both speaking informally, just making small talk. He shifts to somewhat crisper pronunciation (and slightly louder voice, slightly slower speech) with “Okay, so my question to you is this.” This is a signal to her to pay attention, that the serious business of the conversation is beginning. The word choice also becomes correspondingly more formal at the same time (“procedural,” “secondary and tertiary,” “predetermined,” etc.). If you stuck with the recording to the end, you might notice that he shifts again right at the end to interject a witty comment (“That alliteration sounds like something that we would do! That’s our business, right?”). The quicker and more relaxed pronunciation here shows the shift in tenor: that this isn’t part of the “business.”
He sounds very casual at first, making relaxed minimal responses (“Yeah, yeah. Um.”). There is a noticeable shift when he says “Let’s see, I am going to….” At this point, he is speaking more slowly, more loudly, and pronouncing everything fully. (No “gonna” here!) This introduces the new and serious information about the places where she could submit her poetry for publication. You can tell when he’s done with the serious business, because he shifts back (“Cool!”). From that point out, they’re just doing social chitchat, wrapping up the conversation. (Notice how much work it takes them to conclude the conversation!)
Exercise: Role Play
Record yourself reading each block quote from the written exercise three ways: once trying to be as formal as possible (enunciating everything clearly), once as informally as possible (applying as many of the rules that you can), and once in between. Play the recordings for your friends or relatives (without telling them which are which — make sure you haven’t always recorded them in the same order): can they hear the differences in formality?