189: Linking magic!

Linking same and similar stop sounds increases spoken fluency.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 189th episode.

I'm excited to say that I'm nearly finished with a brand new ebook on the topic of linking! At it's very simplest, linking is how we move from one word into the next when we're speaking.

Unfortunately, linking is a pronunciation skill that is too often overlooked by pronunciation teachers. It might even be the least sexy topic when it comes to pronunciation. Hopefully, that's going to change. Linking is kind of a magic skill. When I've got students who are really struggling with the rhythm of English, often it helps tremendously to practice simple linking, practice it often, and practice it in different contexts.

The context I'm going to talk about today is linking to and from the same stop sound and linking to and from voiced and unvoiced pairs of stops.

To understand how to link same and similar stops, you have to understand a couple of things. First, you have to know that stops are created when we use the vocal tract to briefly, completely block the air; second, you have to know that the release of the blocked air is called "aspiration;" and third, you have to know that stops occur in voiced and unvoiced pairs.

English has 6 stop sounds: /t/ and /d/, /p/ and /b/, and /k/ and /g/. I just listed them in their unvoiced and voiced pairs. An unvoiced sound is created without engaging the vocal cords, whereas the vocal cords do vibrate during a voiced sound. When it comes to linking, the most important aspect of unvoiced and voiced sounds is that when an unvoiced sound is released, the puff of air that comes out of our mouth is bigger than the puff of air that comes out when we release the voiced counterpart.

So, to review:

  • a t sound is unvoiced and a d sound is its voiced counterpart; the /t/ will have a bigger puff of air (t sound, d sound)
  • a p sound is unvoiced and a b sound is its voiced counterpart; the /p/ will have a bigger puff of air (p sound, b sound)
  • a k sound is unvoiced and a g sound is its voiced counterpart; the /k/ sound will have the bigger puff of air (k sound, g sound)

It makes sense to think that if you have the same sound twice in a row that you'd need to say that sound two times, but you don't. But you also don't say the sound exactly once, either. What? If you don't say that sound once, and you don't say it twice, how do you say the sound? Well, kind of one and a half times… Let me explain, and you'll see that it's not so hard.

If I'm linking the word "wait" into "time," I'll be linking a /t/ into a /t/: "wait time." I had only one puff there, not a separate puff for each t sound. However, I didn't say a normal, single t sound either. Instead, I held the stopped portion of the t sound for extra time. So my tongue went into the position of the t and blocked the air from leaving my mouth. Then it held it for a bit longer than normal, then I released the sound with the normal t sound puff. I'll say the linked words a few more times:

wait time
wait time
wait time

Here are some more examples of linking to and from the same stop sound:

k sound: antique clocks
p sound: hope people
d sound: hundred dollars
g sound: big gift

If I'm linking between a voiced/unvoiced pair (like /d/ into /t/), or an unvoiced/voiced pair (like /t/ into /d/), I need to pay extra careful attention to the aspiration. I'm still only going to aspirate the linked sounds once, and I'm going to give the linked sounds the amount of puff of the second sound. So if I'm linking from a /t/ into a /d/, I'll use the smaller d sound aspiration. But if I'm linking from a /d/ into a /t/, I'll use the bigger t sound aspiration. You have to remember that unvoiced stops are aspirated more than voiced stops.

Here are some examples of linking between pairs of similar stops:

First, unvoiced into voiced:

/p/ into /b/: help button
/t/ into /d/: date do
/k/ into /g/: majestic gardens

Next, voiced into unvoiced:

/g/ into /k/: dog catcher
/b/ into /p/: job postings

Let's practice these some more, this time putting the linked words into sentences:

t sound: wait time: The wait‿time for getting a seat is 35 minutes.
k sound: antique clocks: Nellie repairs antique‿clocks.
p sound: hope people: We hope‿people aren't late today.
d sound and g sound: hundred dollars/big gift: A hundred‿dollars is a big‿gift.

Now let's practice some pairs of stops:

/p/ into /b/: help button: Press the red help‿button to ask for assistance.
/t/ into /d/: date do: What date‿do you want the report submitted by?
/k/ into /g/: majestic gardens: Many castles have majestic‿gardens.
/g/ into /k/: dog catcher: The dog‿catcher got bit on the ankle.
/b/ into /p/: job postings: You can find a lot of job‿postings on the Internet.

If you'd like to practice these sentences and more, I'll link to the free Pronuncian.com lesson on this topic from this episode's transcript page. You can find the transcript by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and clicking episode 189. If you want even more practice, consider subscribing to the site. All of the new linking lessons have additional exercises available to subscribers so you'll get more than twice as much linking practice. Your site subscriptions are what allow us to keep producing these podcasts for free, and so we appreciate your support.

Also, watch our Facebook page for more linking tips and examples. It's www.facebook.com/englishassembly.

That's all for today, everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn. Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.