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Unit 32. We Stuck a Picture of an Elephant.

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Breaking speech into units

Unit 32; Part A

32.1.jpgAs we speak, we group words into units depending on meaning and emphasis. Listen and notice how this speaker divides up what he is saying:
          // I can rememher as children// we were rather naughty//
         once// we stuck a picture// of an elephant// on the back
         of Dad's coat// before he went out// of course he
         couldn't see it// so he didn't know why everyone was
         laughing at him// until he got to work// and took it off//

We call these speech units and mark them with //
.

Unit 32; Part B

Although there are no rules about how we divide speech into units, some words are more likely to go together than others in order to help make sense of the message. For example:
            // we stuck a picture// of an elephant//    is more likely than:
            // we stuck a// picture of an elephant// or: // we stuck a picture of// an elephant//
          
           // until he got to work// and took it off//     is more likely than:
           // until he got to// work and took it off// or: // until he got to work and took// it off//

Unit 32; Part C

Sometimes the division of speech into units can make a diference in meaning:
         (i)  // we were rather naughty// once// we stuck a picture// of an elephant// ...
         (ii) // we were rather naughty once// we stuck a picture// of an elephant// ...

In (i), 'once' goes with 'we stuck a picture of an elephant' and shows that the speaker is giving an example of the many times they were naughty. In (ii), 'once' goes with 'we were naughty' and suggests that we were naughty only one time.

        (iii) // before he went out// of course he couldn't see it//
        (iv) // before he went out of course// he couldn't see it//

In (iii), 'of course' goes with 'he couldn't see it' and means that it is obvious that he couldn't see it. In (iv), 'of course' goes with 'before he went out' and means that it is obvious that we stuck it on his coat before he went out.

Unit 32; Part D

When we want to emphasise words in order to draw particular attention to them, we can put them into very short speech units:
       // we were rather naughty// or for emphasis: // we were rather// naughty//
        // on the back of Dad's coat// or for emphasis: // on the back// of Dad's// coat//

Unit 32; Part E

Within speech units, words are usually linked smoothly together, without pauses between them (see also Unit 26):
     // I can remember as children//
                            
  /r/
     // of course he couldn 't see it//
                                             
/j/
     // until he got_to work//

 



Exercises

flag.jpgListen to the recording as many times as you need, and mark the boundaries between speech units with // in these extracts. The first one has been done for you.
Key.1 that's the main thing// and then// if you've got any questions afterwards// hopefully// we'll still have time// to go through a few of them// is that okay
2 she'd left// when she had a baby// and then// decided not to go back// although the job had been kept open for her
3 Tom dear// where's the advert// for this calculator// because I don't know the address// and I don't know// who I've got to make the cheque payable to

  1. that's    the    main    thing // and    then   if   you've    got   any    questions    afterwards   hopefully    we'll    still    have    time   to   go   through    a   few   of   them    is   that    okay
  2. she'd    left   when    she    had    a    baby    and    then    decided    not   to   go    back    although    the    job    had    been    kept   open    for   her
  3. Tom   dear   where's   the    advert   for   this   calculator    because    I    don't   know   the    address    and    I    don't    know   who    I've    got   to    make    the    cheque    payable    to
Now check your answers in the Key. Then read the extracts aloud. Put short breaks between speech units and link the words within speech units smoothly together without pauses.


flag.jpgGive special emphasis to the words in bold by putting each one in a short speech unit. Read the extracts aloud and then compare your pronunciation with the recording.

1    I've never seen such an incredibly exciting football match.
2    She has always helped me and has never refused any request I've made.
3    After the day of climbing I was completely exhausted.
4    She looked much older - grey and lined - and she used a walking stick.

Follow up: Record a short extract (about 15 seconds) from a radio or programme. Write out what was said and then try to mark speech unit boundaries in the text. Listen to the recording as many times as necessary.

 
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