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Elision in TEFL

A missing piece of jigsaw.Elision happens when you miss out one or more sounds as you’re speaking.

Sometimes it’s known as slurring or muting but the important point to remember despite what some people say, it is not a sign of “bad pronunciation” or poor education, but simply the natural way in which words are formed and put together. Everyone elides words regardless of their education, background, accent, or upbringing!

Why Elision?

Elision occurs because English is not a phonetic language. Often we see how a word is written but when we say it we have to elide it. The utterance does not follow the spelling. For example, take the word:

vegetable = veg + e + tab + le

But most people say it as

vedʒtəbl̩ = veg + ta + ble

That is, we leave out the second sound. This is elision.

Because we don’t normally write using the IPA, when we have to write what has been said we might use an apostrophe to show where a sound is missing:

There’s somethin’ wrong with ‘im.

‘Ave you seen ‘is dad?

Din’t you do it?

NB this last example is a form of elision known as syncope where one or more sounds are missing from the middle of a word.

However, we tend only to use an apostrophe to show that the speaker had a specific accent; we wouldn’t, for example, use an apostrophe in vegetable.

As I said above, elision is sometimes pointed out as a sign of poor education, however ALL native speakers elide words regardless of their background or education. Many well educated English speakers will talk about:

comf’table

fam’li

Learners of English, on the other hand, will often be more careful and give the words their “full” pronunciation.

Elision and TEFL

For TEFL teachers the problem usually arises with learners who read a lot and have seen a word written down and mentally said it wrongly (i.e. without elision) many times. Common examples are:

vegetable
laboratory
family
comfortable

NB whether you elide these words or not will also depend on your accent, e.g. American or British, etc.

It’s only worth mentioning elision and how a word should be pronounced as and when it turns up in class and only if it causes a slight issue. Most times you can ignore it in teaching.

Epenthesis

The opposite of elision is Epenthesis; this is when sounds are inserted into utterances to make them easier to say, for example many native English speakers will talk about:

a filum

instead of

a film

Remember Yogi bear talking about his

pic-a-nic basket

Although epenthesis is less common, it does occur in a number of regional accents and again, like some forms of elision, it’s often associated with less educated or working class speech.

Image © KatieThebeau

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