Something in the way it moves

Many of you, I am sure, are perfectly familiar with the common speech feature known as de-alveolar assimilation. As its name suggests, this affects alveolar consonants, especially the stops t d n. After it has taken effect, an expected alveolar turns up as a consonant at some other place of articulation, typically bilabial or velar. So, for example, ten boys may be pronounced as tem bɔɪz and good girl as ɡʊɡ ɡɜːl. The following consonant in these examples has imposed its place of articulation on the preceding alveolar.

However, there are other sorts of assimilation which rarely make it into textbooks on English phonetics. One of these appears to be a favourite of Fiona Bruce, a British broadcaster, whom you can see in the picture above. In one recent edition of the BBC’s News at Ten, Ms Bruce uttered the word something as sʌn̪θɪŋ and himself as hɪnself. Here it is a bilabial consonant which is being influenced by the place of articulation of the following consonant: dental in the first example and alveolar in the second.

The motivation for all of these place changes is of course to cut down on articulatory movement. I am sure Fiona Bruce is not the only speaker to use this rarer (?) form of assimilation, but she does seem to do it fairly frequently.

14 thoughts on “Something in the way it moves

  1. I’m pritty sure I he·rd these (only once) a night or two before your posting. They were so fleeting that I hesitated even to make any note of them.
    I’m reminded of the way that textbooks offen mention the way that menny speakers say /samwɪʤ/ but hardly anyone mentions the less usual assimilation to /saŋwɪʤ/.

  2. Petr,

    I am afeared there is no way to retrieve the utterances. We’ll just have to keep a close ear on Ms Bruce in future.

  3. Sidney,

    hɪm → hɪz/hɪs involves a lot more than just a change of place of articulation, of course. There is, as you say, the added complication that it could just be a dialectal variation. It’s pretty logical to opt for his rather than him because of my/your + self and our + selves. I am sure I have heard theirselves from time to time over the years. I haven’t checked Wright’s dialect grammar yet, but I will.

  4. As you say, the pronoun genitive seems to dominate the paradigm.

    At the same time, this might be an example of how taste (prescription) and practice vary arbitrarily:

    myself – more desirable, meself – less desirable
    hisself – less desirable, himself – more desirable

    The catch is that me in meself might still be genitive. Someone who says “meself” probably also says “[mi] book”. In that case, the less desirable paradigm is at least consistent in combining the pronoun genitive with self.

  5. About 40 minutes ago I heard Fiona Bruce do another “ad-alveolar” assimilation. The phrase was time to, which she produced as taɪn tu.

  6. Petr,

    That’s right. Something like: “and now it’s time to join our news teams where you are”.

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