Monday, 25 June 2012

And we went to get some fish 'n’ chips

Fish, chips 'n' lemon

We probably say and more often than any other English word, but how often do we notice that sometimes we pronounce it as and, with the full vowel, and sometimes as n, with no vowel at all?  Sometimes too, we pronounce and as en or end, with a reduced vowel and, perhaps, no /d/.

Dagmar Barth-Weingarten points out that although English speakers happily substitute one pronunciation of and for another we are rarely aware of the fine phonetic details of our pronunciation. She also comments that although researchers have analysed variation in the pronunciation of and as well as variation in its different linguistic functions, the two kinds of variation haven’t yet been considered together.  She therefore did exactly this for and as used in the CallHome English corpus of telephone conversations between American friends and family members.  Her analysis revealed a strong relationship between how the speakers pronounced and and its function.

When and was linking two words related in their meaning, it was more likely to be reduced in form. So, speakers were more likely to say n or en in compound nouns like bed and breakfast (we slept in the bed and breakfast), or fish and chips  (let’s have fish and chips for dinner). On the other hand, they were more likely to give and its full pronunciation when it connected two separate clauses, as in we slept in the bed and we didn’t notice the lumps.

Barth-Weingarten found that the pronunciation of and can also help to organise turn-taking. For example, compare the two ands in A’s last turn in the example below, where B is asking how A spent the night on her holiday:

                        B:            you slept in the shed huh?
                        A:            no.  but when my cousins came up
                        B:            yeah
                        A:            they all slept out in the shed
                        B:            all? oh
                        A:            an of course see Ella couldn’t be left out so                                        she went n slept in the shed with them

The first and in the last part of A’s speech is relatively unreduced, (with only the [d] deleted), as turns out to be usual when and connects two separate events in a story (here, they all slept in the shed and Ella couldn’t be left out).  But the pronunciation of and here not only connects the story events. In addition, it acts as a turn-taking cue for speaker B, who realises that A is going to say more and so does not take a turn until later.  In contrast, the fully reduced n form of and connects the two verbs went and slept which are not only next to each other in the discourse but also cognitively connected, referring to a single event. 

Barth-Weingarten concludes that it is cognitive distance (and sometimes physical distance) which influences variation in the pronunciation of and.  She also notes the special status of and in and-um sequences, as these are unlikely to be reduced through either /d/ deletion or vowel weakening.  Even though she cautions that other factors come into play to affect the pronunciation of and (such as emphasis and the speed at which an utterance is spoken), and that the different pronunciations of and need to be seen in their context (situational, interactional and phonetic) she suggests that research like this shows that variation in the pronunciation of a word can make a difference.
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Barth-Weingarten, D. (2012) Of Ens ‘n’ Ands: Observations on the Phonetic Make-up of a Coordinator and its Uses in Talk-in-Interaction; Language and Speech 55:35-56

doi: 10.1177/0023830911428868

This summary was written by Jenny Amos

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