5

I've been trying to learn more about a common English pronunciation oddity. I've been trying to find the right combination of words to google for the last half hour, but I'm at a total loss. Also, I figure this question has been asked on this stack before, but I can't seem to find it.

The question centers on certain words used in front of "you." It's common for people to say the following:

what you => pronounced "what-chyou" or "what-cha" or "what-chya"

that you => pronounced "that-chyou" or "that-choo"

without you => pronounced "with-out-chyou" or "with-out-choo"

There are many examples of this in popular music. For example, you can hear the alternate pronunciation clearly in U2's "With or Without You." Also, the Beastie Boys have a famous song called "Whatcha Want." And there was a famous catch-phrase from the 1980's sitcom "Different Strokes": "Whatchyou talkin about, Willis!"

What is this pronunciation phenomenon called, and where does it come from? Are there particular rules for its usage?

  • It seems odd that there would be a specific name for the regional pronunciation of this particular combination of sounds. How is this unique from, say, the stereotypical New Yorker pronunciation of "What do you ..." as "Waddaya ..."? – Andrew Aug 31 '17 at 21:41
  • Is it even regional? U2 is from Ireland, Beastie Boys are from NYC. Countless hip hop groups have titles with "whatcha" in it, and I assume they're from all over the US. It seems almost like a generic kind of slang to me, but I don't really know. – Ringo Aug 31 '17 at 21:45
  • 2
    I think this type of consonant change is an example of palatalization, but I am not a linguist. You might find this answer interesting: english.stackexchange.com/questions/111207/t-pronounced-as-ch – Adam Aug 31 '17 at 21:47
  • 2
    Palatalization: alphadictionary.com/blog/?p=872 – Adam Aug 31 '17 at 21:48
  • Both describe a long u sound modifying the preceding consonant (particularly when the u has an "intruding y"), and specifically modifying t -> ch. That pretty much captures what you're observing, but you're correct that it isn't specifically limited to your case (which is why I posted a comment, not an answer :-) ) – Adam Aug 31 '17 at 22:02
1

Short version: In fast speech, T plus Y tends to merge to TSH, spelled CH, because of where they are pronounced in the mouth.


Long version: As Adam hinted, this is really a linguistics question. Sumelic linked to a pretty comprehensive answer, but I'll give it another shot.

Here is a broad IPA transcription of one phrase in American English before and after the change:

/wʌtju/ what you → /wʌtʃu/ whatchu

When you compare them, you can see that although they sound quite different to the ear, only one segment changes: /j/ becomes /ʃ/.

That first sound is a palatal glide ("yuh") and the second is a palato-alveolar fricative ("shh"). If you try to make both sounds you'll notice how little your tongue changes position between them.

We notice that in the formal description, two features changed: "palatal" became "palato-alveolar" and "glide" became "fricative".

There are several reasons why features can change, but it's always worth checking if anything in the area could trigger assimilation, the "sharing" of features.

Here, the changing sound is preceded by /t/, an alveolar stop. The "alveolar" is why "palatal" shifted to "palato-alveolar". And a fricative is between a glide and a stop in terms of obstruction of airflow. The stop /t/ "pulled" the glide /j/ halfway, ending up at the fricative /ʃ/. Result: /tʃ/, pronounced "ch".


This assimilation happens easily in quick speech. It's a very natural change and I would not expect it to be bound to one region.

At least, not for phonetic reasons. For sociolinguistic reasons, it might have more stigma or cultural currency in different places among different people. I don't believe, however, there is really any group that avoids it. The answer sumelic linked to includes a clip of the Queen using it.

But writing this change by spelling it with a "ch" is very informal. That spelling is sometimes used as a hint that the speaker is overly casual, not careful in their speech, not educated, or not high-class, even though (again) even the Queen uses it!


Incidentally, despite the uncited sentence that closes the introduction to the Wikipedia article on palatalization, this is a case of affrication. I say that because the sound involved in the change is already palatal before the changes takes place. In fact, it becomes less palatal. But it does go from being a glide to a fricative. The resulting combination of a stop /t/ plus a fricative /ʃ/ is an affricate.

  • Yes, thanks, I was looking for confirmation that all types of people from all parts of the world use palatalization. – Ringo Oct 2 '17 at 17:17
  • @Ringo You're welcome. But to reiterate, I'd consider "palatalization" a misnomer here. – Luke Sawczak Oct 2 '17 at 17:46
  • affrication, i see! As to why people do this, it seems to me that it might improve the separation of words and make the speaker easier to understand. – Ringo Oct 2 '17 at 18:12
0

There are certain registers or dialects where the pronunciation, as you posted it, is customary. For example, in African American vernacular. It is also common in informal speech around the San Francisco Bay area that I have noticed. I am not sure about other areas around the U.S.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.