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I have an adult Japanese student who has what I consider a pronunciation idiosyncrasy. I'd like to know if anyone in this forum knows of this pronunciation to be common anywhere in the world. He calls this an example of elision.

For example, I recently heard him say, “There was nothing happening there.” He pronounced the ‘ng’ then pronounced ‘n’ and did not pronounce the ‘th’. So it sounded to me like "happening nere". Other examples he cites as being okay to omit the 'th' are: in there; on that; and on them. I agree with him only on the last one.

He insists this is common native speaker pronunciation. I grew up near San Francisco, California. If this is common native speaker pronunciation, boy, can someone please tell me where people commonly speak like this?!

He’s astute, has been studying English for years, has studied pronunciation pretty darn thoroughly. So I really hate to completely write off what he says, but it sure isn’t the pronunciation I’m familiar with. I'll add that I’ve been listening to native speakers from around the world for the past many years, yet this pronunciation stands out as an oddity.

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  • Native AmE speaker here, Great Lakes area. I would pronounce the sentence exactly as your student claims. There was nothing happnin'nair. The nair at the end of the sentence is very short and soft. It drops off in volume as you say it. I would only speak this way when casually speaking. If you and I were engaged in an official business communication, I would do my best to pronounce the sentence as you expect it to be pronounced.
    – EllieK
    Apr 5, 2022 at 15:59
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    @EllieK But happnin'nair isn't exactly what the OP describes; he describes something more like "happening nair", and if we don't elide -ng into -n, adding n to the beginning of there/'ere seems very odd. Your version, I can kind of hear as a Midwestern access, but the version the OP describes doesn't sound quite like that to me. I wonder if the speaker is incorrectly trying to emulate a Midwestern accent he's heard.
    – stangdon
    Apr 5, 2022 at 17:06
  • To clarify, since "Japanese student" is ambiguous, it sounds like you mean a student who is Japanese, not a student of Japanese?
    – sumelic
    Apr 5, 2022 at 18:00
  • Without hearing your student there is no way to know what he is saying. Unless I had extensive knowledge about regional dialects and accents, I would give him the benefit of the doubt. It sounds like a rural accent, maybe not appreciated or promoted but certainly valid. Voting to close as Opinion Based. But why would he choose a regional, rural accent as his speaking voice?
    – EllieK
    Apr 6, 2022 at 12:21
  • EllieK and stangdon ... you're BOTH right! I didn't offer all the information. I didn't want to get so detailed because I thought it wouldn't be useful. My student actually tells me that he means to pronounce it "happenin'nair" but I thought I heard "happeningnair". sumelic - yep. My student is Japanese, studying English. I've shared the link to this thread with the student, and we've talked about it during a lesson. He thanks all of you for your contributions :)
    – troysantos
    Apr 7, 2022 at 4:02

2 Answers 2

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If "happening there" is pronounced like "happening nere", this is a case of assimilation rather than elision. Elision would be the loss of the th- sound /ð/ at the start of there ("happening 'ere"). Assimilation is the change of /ð/ to become more similar to the preceding sound, by turning into a nasal consonant.

Assimilation that turns /ð/ into a dental nasal consonant sound [n̪] is possible as a phonetic phenomenon, but English speakers don't generally notice it when it happens. That is, usually an English speaker will hear /ð/ in this kind of context, even if [n̪] is what's phonetically present. For this reason, I'd say it isn't important or particularly useful to instruct English second language learners about this topic.

I don't know exactly why, but if the nasalization of /ð/ in this particular person's speech sounds noticeable and strange to you, I guess he must be somehow doing something different from other speakers. But I can't guess at which details are making it sound strange to you.

There is a detailed post about this phonetic phenomenon by Araucaria on English Language and Usage SE: Is "the" ever pronounced "knee"?

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  • sumelic - you're right again :) He said it was a case of assimilation. I'm not so familiar with the details of assimilation and elision. I referred to a website that has good information about linking, with explanations and examples of assimilation and elision. It seemed to me that this couldn't be assimilation and was much more likely to be elision, so I myself called it elision. My student and I both appreciated your comment that native speakers don't generally notice when this happens. I'm gonna have to pay closer attention when listening to native speakers. Thanks much :)
    – troysantos
    Apr 7, 2022 at 4:11
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Speaking as a native English speaker who grew up in New York, spent most of my life in Ohio and Michigan, and have family in Tennessee ...

If I'm understanding you correctly, I don't recall ever hearing such pronunciations. People do sometimes slur "them" to "em", but I think that's pretty much regardless of what precedes it. The other omissions of the "th" sound ... no.

I am not an expert on regionalisms so I can't swear that this isn't common SOMEWHERE. I especially would not want to make any broad declarations about English pronunciation outside the US. But I haven't heard this here.

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  • The fact that this doesn't occur for any other 'th' indicates that this is not 'slurring', but a separate word which is used as a colloquial alternative for 'them'. The OED lists it as a separate entity, and notes that it derives from the Anglo-saxon pronoun 'hie', object form 'hem' (as opposed to 'they', 'them', which were Norse).
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 5, 2022 at 17:54

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