Relaxed pronunciation is not slang. It’s natural English!
You have most probably heard native speakers of English using ‘wanna‘ (want +to ), ‘gonna‘ (going + to), and ‘hafta‘ (have + to) in everyday speech. However, did you know that there are many more examples of relaxed pronunciation in English? Informal speech is not slang or ‘incorrect’ English and – while almost never used in writing – is considered to be part of standard natural English when it is spoken at a normal speed.
RELAXED PRONUNCIATION HAS A LONG HISTORY
Does Wanna sound like it’s modern day slang? Well, it certainly isn’t. As you see here in Google’s Ngram viewer, ‘Wanna’ has been around since 1880!
Below are some of the reasons why natural English sounds this way. It is crucial to be aware of the phenomenon of relaxed pronunciation if you want to understand TV series, movies and everyday informal speech used by native English speakers.
1-. Natural speed of speech
To start, relaxed pronunciation inevitably occurs when we speak at a fast natural speed.
In the following clips you can hear 3 speeds of ‘Want to’
Slow: Want + to = want to
Medium: Want + to = wanta
Fast: Want + to = wanna
In this connection, research carried out by Nina Weinstein from the video ‘8 Secrets of Hearing and Understanding Real English with a group of native speakers during a period of 7 hours shows that the fast version ‘wanna’ is by far the most frequent.
2-. Content words, Contrast, and Schwa
Another key reason why native speakers use relaxed pronunciation in naturally spoken English is because they aim to highlight to the listener the important Content words ( verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives, numbers etc ). These key words carry the meaning and main message of the sentence and native speakers generally pronounce these words louder and with greater stress.
The Schwa and natural English
As we put emphasis on the content words, we have to de-emphasise the Function words or weak forms (articles, prepositions, pronouns, modals). In fact, these are normally reduced when we speak and become quieter and softer with the help of the weak English vowel sound Schwa. In future posts we will be exploring this common sound in greater detail, together so-called sentence stress, as this is crucial for speaking and understanding natural English.
|CONTENT WORDS||FUNCTION WORDS|
|Adjectives||‘To be’ verbs|
|Negative forms||Auxiliary verbs|
In the following example – ‘I have to go to the bathroom’ – we hear GO and BATHROOM clearly. On the other hand notice the Schwa in ‘Have to’ = ‘hæftə‘ and ‘To the’ = ‘də ðə‘.
Example of sentence stress in naturally spoken English
The question of contrasting the key words with the grammatical words is beautifully illustrated here by Judy B. Gilbert during her talk at The New School ‘Teaching Pronunciation – Seven Essential Concepts’:
Can you see the butterfly?
Relaxed pronunciation is natural English and is used by everyone!
In fact, reductions such as ‘hafta’, ‘gonna’ and ‘wanna’ are so common in spoken English that they are said on average every 2 minutes in natural everyday English.
Here is an extract from an interview with Nina Weinstein:
«The three most common reduced forms are wanna, which is the spoken form of ‘want to’; gonna, which is the spoken form of ‘going to’ plus a verb; and hafta, which is the spoken form of ‘have to.’ And one of these forms will occur about every two minutes.».
In conclusion, ‘wanna’ & ‘gonna’ are used by everyone in all registers of speech, from formal to informal. The following videos will leave you in no doubt!
Look out for our next blog post with more examples of relaxed pronunciation and natural English. And remember to download our app. As a result, you’ll keep on improving your English to sound more natural and fluent.