Weak forms

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THE 37 ESSENTIAL WEAK-FORM WORDS

HECTOR ORTIZ LIRA
•UNIVERSIDAD METROPOLITANA DE CIENCIAS DE LA EDUCACIÓN •UNIVERSIDAD DE SANTIAGO DE CHILE 2008

INTRODUCTION Weak forms are an essential feature of English pronunciation. Students who wish to acquire a high level of oral performance, as is the case of future teachers of English, must be aware of their existence, since failure to produce themwill affect English rhythm quite considerably and even lead to misunderstanding. Spanish-speaking learners face a number of difficulties in this respect. On the one hand, weakening of the grammatical items which make up the weakform inventory in non-prominent contexts does not exist in Spanish. On the other hand, unless the weakened pronunciations are represented with a contracted form, i.e. bythe use of apostrophes, (e.g. I could’ve helped if you’d asked me /aî k¨d \v «helpt îf jud `å…st mi/), English spelling does not provide learners with the information they need to make the correct choice. One final point concerns the varying type of information they find in books and courses. For instance, lists of weak-form words vary in length (e.g. as many as 48 in Gimson & Cruttenden 2001, 40in Roach 2000, 35 in Kenworthy 1987, and 44 in García Lecumberri & Maidment 2000). This paper is divided in two parts. Part I intends to establish the main points concerning the topic. Part II provides a list of the essential items with examples in ordinary spelling and phonemic transcription with intonation marks. Since the use of weak and strong forms depends to a considerable extent on sentenceaccentuation, students are advised to read transcribed texts and mark utterances by making use of the so-called ‘tonetic-stress marks’, which indicate intonation. The analysis of minimal pairs such as /aî k\n `help/ and /aî kæn `help/ or /«w√n f\ `tu…/ and /«w√n fø… `tu…/ should help identify important differences in meaning; whereas /aî k\n `help/ and /«w√n f\ `tu…/ are the normal, usualpatterns, /aî kæn `help/ may be understood as a contradicting remark –Contrary to what you may expect, I can be of help–, and /«w√n fø… `tu…/ is perceived as one, four, two. In sum, weak forms can only be taught and learned in connected speech. They are not a feature
The 37 essential weak-form words. H. Ortiz Lira. UMCE, USACH. 2008. Page 1

of the word, but a feature of the utterance and as suchshould be taught from the very initial stages. Learners are advised to analyse the following examples and use the accompanying recording as practice material for listening and repetition.

PART I: GENERAL PRINCIPLES 1. There is a small group of about 35 to 40 very common structural words in English which are pronounced in mainly two different ways—a weak form and a strong form; some of these wordshave more than one weak form. In general, weak forms are much more common than strong forms; in fact, weak forms are the normal pronunciations and for this reason students should identify them and use them from the very early stages. The most complete and updated information concerning the pronunciation of weak-form words can be found in the two standard pronunciation dictionaries: Wells (2008) andRoach, Hartman & Setter (2006). Here users may find out about regular, occasional and fairly unusual forms. 2. A weak form usually contains a weak vowel –mainly /\/, sometimes the neutralized versions i and u– and, in some cases, no vowel, e.g. (1) (2) Come and kiss me. /«k√m \n kîs mi/ ` Bread and butter. /«bred n `b√t\/

3. In most contexts the use of weak forms is not optional, butcompulsory. Failure to pronounce weak forms in appropriate contexts will result in a foreign accent, unnecessary (and therefore wrong) emphasis or contrast, excessive formality or even pomposity. 4. Weak-form words are structural or function words, i.e. adjectival words (including articles), some pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and a group of auxiliary verbs. 5. Students must learn when to use weak...
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