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[Phonology] a trick question - the difference between elision and assimilation -


While I was working on my pronunciation drills about star signs - Elementary WS2-08, I put pronunciation practice into different layers - a slide with weak form, liaison and assimilation, another one for sentence stress and the third one for intonation and rhythms. But assimilation/elision tricked me as in the phrases - "bad points" and "a favo(u)rite day of the week". 

Though assimilation differs from elision by modifying the end consonant in the proceeding word instead of omitting it, it is hard to tell the difference between the two when it modified consonant is the same with the beginning one in the following word, e.g. "good boy" - /ɡʊb bɔɪ/ or "good girl" - /ɡʊɡ ɡɜːl/. Adrian Underhill's examples in this Sound Foundation didn't bring me any questions in understanding it as he explains that most of the examples are listed in the book, until "bad points" and "favorite day" came to me. First of all, they are not listed there as /~~~d p~~~/ and /~~~t d~~~/. Scott Thornbury has a brief definition about the two terms, as elision "is common when two plosive sounds occur together". But exceptions are all over the place in Sound Foundation. 

So, I am writing to ask for your opinions. 

"bad points" 1./bæp pɔɪnts/; 2./bæ pɔɪnts/

"favorite day" 1./ˈfeɪvərɪd deɪ/; 2./ˈfeɪvərɪ deɪ/

Which ones do you think they are if we have to tear assimilation apart from elision? 

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Comment by Laura Wilkes on August 27, 2014 at 8:39pm

Hi Kevin, 

This is a really interesting point you raise and you have researched it well. Nice work!

This distinguishing between assimilation and elision is a question that often comes up in training sessions. Here are some practical tips that I share with trainees:

-look at the mouth movement. What sounds are being articulated, or what sounds are missing?

-for voiced consonants are you using your voice or is there no vibration in the throat?

-Over emphasize with the consonant endings and then compare this to how it is said naturally 

-Get another speaker to say it while you listen and watch them

I have just used the last strategy to on my colleagues in the office in getting them to say 'bad points' and 'favourite day'. There was some variation between native and L2 speakers as well as accent. Overall, I found the majority say:

-/bæp pɔɪnts/ - there is something here. Perhaps a form of glottalization is happening? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glottalization

-/ˈfeɪvərɪd deɪ/

Let me know what you think

Comment by Ross Thorburn on August 10, 2014 at 9:16pm

Hi Kevin.

I'd write these as /bæp pɔɪnts/ and /ˈfeɪvərɪd deɪ/

My understanding is that these are examples of assimilation because the /p/ and /d/ both stop the flow of air at the end of the first word. Elision would be more like the /d/ in “second hand” disappearing as it’s sandwiched between two other consonants.

Of course, ultimately the distinction isn’t so important for teaching – as long as we’re able to model these for our students and point out that something happens, the terminology won’t make too much of a difference.


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