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Unit 23. Calculate.

Vowels in Unstressed Syllables in Content Words

Unit 23; Part A

Vowels in stressed syllables of a content word are usually pronounced in the same way whether they are made prominent or not (see also Unit 10):
         A: Is she a DOCtor?    /dokt∂/
         B: NO, her SISter's a doctor.    

The vowel in a one-syllable content word doesn't change its pronunciation, although the vowel in a one-syllable function word can
(see Unit 21):
       content word:   It's a big CAT. /big/    It's really BIG. /big/
       function word:   It's for you.
/f∂/       but:   WHAT'S it FOR? /fo:/

Unit 23; Part B

However, the vowels in unstressed syllables of a content word can vary a lot. In slow, careful speech the  vowel may have its full form, but in normal speech these vowels are often reduced to /∂/ (or sometimes for /ι/). For example, 'calendar' can be said /kælιnd∂/ or /kæl∂nd∂/; the second vowel varies from /ι/ to /∂/. Here are some more words which have variable vowels in unstressed syllables.

/æ/ to /∂/        

/o:/ to /∂/

/υ/ to /∂/            

/aι/ to /∂/ or /ι/

/∂υ/ to /∂/         

/ι/ to /∂/
/o/ to /∂/

Notice also the common ending -ity:
/ιti/ to /∂ti/
ability      scarcity
density    security

It is not essential to reduce these vowels in your own speech in order to be understood, although reduced vowels usually sound more natural and fluent.

Unit 23; Part C

idea.jpgImportant for listening!
In some words, when an unstressed syllable ending in a vowel is followed by another unstressed syllable beginning with a vowel, the two syllables may merge into one. This only happens in normal speech; in slow, careful speech both syllables are said:
         slow speech:        casual /kæ3.ju.el/ = three syllables
         normal speech:    casual /kæ3.j∂l/ = two syllables

Other words like this include:
         virtual, actual, adverbial, colonial, studious, obedient, ingredient, gradient



flag.jpgListen and compare the pronunciation of these words, first said slowly and carefully, and then used in normal speech. In which words does the pronunciation of the highlighted vowel sound change (write C), and in which is there no change (write NC)? (Some of these words are given in B opposite.)23.2.jpg
Key.1 NC   
2 C (director /aι/ - director /∂/)   
3 C (December /ι/ - December I:/)   
4 NC   
5 C (ambulance /u/ - ambulance /∂/)   
6 NC   
7 NC
8 C (vocabulary /∂u/ - vocabulary /∂/)
9 NC
10 C (corridor /o:/ - corridor /∂/)
11 C (consent /o/ - consent /∂/)
12 NC

Examples:  diagram     I didn't understand the diagram.   NC
                 accept      I just couldn't accept their decision. C (accept /æ/ - accept /∂/)

1    musician                
2    director
3    December
4    minute ( = tiny)
5    ambulance
6    cricket
7    hotel
8    vocabulary
9    Mongolia
10  corridor
11  consent
12  airport
She's a musician in an orchestra.
He's a company director.
Her birthday's in December.
The painting was minute.
The ambulance came immediately.
I play cricket every weekend.
We stayed in a smart hotel.
I'm terrible at learning vocabulary.
She's from Mongolia.
Her office is across the corridor.
He gave his consent.
We live near the airport.
Now listen again and repeat, first the words alone and then the sentences with the words in context.

flag.jpgYou will hear short definitions. After each definition, press 'pause', choose an answer from the box and say it aloud. (Use slow, careful speech.) When you press 'play' again you will hear the correct answer.


adverbial    celebrity    colonial     curiosity      furious     gravity     infinity      ingredient       majority       studious        virtual

Example: You hear  
Time that has no end.
                You say     infnity /ιn'fιnιti/


flag.jpgUse the words from exercise 2 to complete these sentences.
Example: The graph goes from zero to  infinity . (/ιn'fιn∂ti/)
1    I was late again and my boss was __________ with me.
2    He was a __________ boy who was happiest when he was reading.
3    Since he appeared on TV he's become a bit of a __________.
4    The country used to be an important __________ power.
5    The __________ of people didn't bother to vote in the election.
6    I want you to underline the __________ in each sentence.
7    Honey's the main __________ in the sauce.
8    Just out of __________, how old are your sisters?
9    It seemed to defy the laws of __________.
10  Because of the snow, we were __________ prisoners in our own home.

Now say the sentences aloud (with the words you have written pronounced as in normal speech). Then listen and check your answers.

Follow up: Think about how you pronounce the words listed in В opposite. Which of the vowels indicated for the unstressed syllable do you normally use?

Unit 22      Unit 23     Unit 24 forward.jpg


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