Linking in American English


At its simplest, linking is the merging of multiple words together until they sound as if they are only one word. Native speakers of English all do this naturally. Linking is an advanced topic for non-native speakers, but learning to correctly link words can result in significantly more fluid and fluent sounding English speech. Failing to link words naturally results in spoken English which may have awkward pauses, extra, unnecessary sounds, and which will sound very foreign to native speakers.

Techniques used for linking words depend on specific adjacent sounds where the words meet in the sentence.

Blending sounds

Blending is smoothly transitioning from the pronunciation of one sound into the next sound. Blending works well for linking from one continuous consonant--a fricative, approximant, or nasal sound--to another different continuous consonant.

In the phrase "this month," the s sound /s/ blends smoothly into the m sound /m/.

Mouth illustration of 'linking this month' for esl practice

Blending can also be used to link continuous consonants and vowel sounds, as in the phrase "this afternoon." Here the s sound /s/ of the word "this" is shared between both words.

linking this afternoon for esl

Coarticulation: overlapping sounds

Coarticulation occurs when adjacent sounds overlap one another, causing a change in one or both sounds' pronunciation. Two examples of coarticulation include nasal aspiration and lateral aspiration.

Nasal aspiration occurs when the d sound /d/ links into the n sound /n/. The tongue moves into the position of the d sound, but the sound is not completed with the typical aspiration (release of air). Instead, the stopped air is released as an n sound.

An example of nasal aspiration occurs in the phrase "good news": the air is stopped as a d sound, but released as an n sound.

linking good news for esl

Lateral aspiration is similar in concept to nasal aspiration in that the air is stopped as a normal d sound /d/, but released as a different sound. In lateral aspiration, the d sound /d/ is released as an l sound /l/.

In the phrase "bad luck," the d sound /d/ links into the l sound /l/, and lateral aspiration occurs.

linking bad luck for esl

Assimilation: changing sounds

Assimilation is a more drastic type of coarticulation. Instead of "sharing" part of a sound, the merged sounds are pronounced as an entirely different sound. Two examples of assimilation occur when the t sound /t/ or d sound /d/ precede the y sound /j/.

When the t sound /j/ and y sound /j/ assimilate, the sounds merge into the ch sound /ʧ/. This causes the phrase "don't you" /doʊntju/ to be pronounced as "donchou" /doʊnʧu/.

linking dont you for esl

The d sound assimilates with the y sound and is pronounced as a j sound /ʤ/. This causes the phrase "did you" /dɪdju/ to be pronounced as "dijou" /dɪʤu/.

linking did you for esl

Intrusion: Adding sounds

Intrusion is placing an additional sound between other sounds. For instance, adding a slight w sound /w/ or y sound /j/ between vowel sounds is a helpful technique for pronouncing both vowels clearly.

In the phrase "he asked," a small y sound /j/ is added between the long e /i/ and short a /æ/. This allows both vowel sounds to be pronounced fully and separately without pausing between words.

linking he asked for esl

A slight w sound /w/ is added to link the oo sound /u/ to the short i /ɪ/ sound in the phrase "do it." Again, this allows both vowel sounds to be pronounced clearly.

linking do it for esl

Elision: Omitting sounds

Elision occurs when a sound is removed from a word. For example, when a t sound /t/ or d sound /d/ is between two other consonant sounds (but not the first sound of a word), the t sound /t/ or d sound /d/ can be omitted.

In the phrase "kept going," the t sound /t/ is between two consonant sounds and can be omitted.

linking kept going for esl

In the phrase "diamond ring," the d sound /d/ is between two consonant sounds and can be omitted.

linking diamond ring for esl

Geminates: Double sounds

Geminates occur when one word ends with and the next word begins with the same consonant sound. Continuous consonants link to each other differently than stops and affricates.

Identical double continuous consonants link by pronouncing one, single sound for an extended period of time. In the phrase, "social life," the l sound /l/ is produced for more time than if the sound occurred alone.

linking social life for esl

When linking identical stop sounds, the stopped portion of the sound is held for an extended period of time, then released. In the phrase "pet turtle," the t sound is stopped, held for extra time, then released. This stop, hold, and release signals the pronunciation of both sounds.

linking pet turtle for esl

The j sound /ʤ/ and ch sound /ʧ/ are the only affricate sounds in English. In a sequence of identical affricates, no special linking occurs and the sounds are pronounced twice in a row. Therefore, in the phrase "orange juice," the j sound should be pronounced twice.

linking orange juice for esl