Informal Language: Understanding Phonology & Syntax

February 1, 2021grusha

This is it, guys – school is now officially back from everyone and it’s now time to develop those GOOD habits throughout all of 2016. Part of these good habits includes thoroughly understanding terms and how they can be applied to texts at the CONCEPTUAL LEVEL. What do I mean by this? I mean not just creating a definitions list for all metalinguistic terms and praying to God you’ll remember it, rather actually understanding these terms and applying it to a variety of texts.

Unit 3 AOS 1 in VCE English Language looks at informal language and part of that is what is known as speech economisation. This is is the idea that we ‘shorten down’ frequently repeated lexemes or phonemes with the intention of saving time in the process. We also endeavour to ensure the intended meaning is comprehensible too.

Economisation happens in a variety of subsystems including phonology and syntax, which we’ll look at today.


  • Elision
    • This is one of the more common means of speech economisation – elision is the process of omitting (removing) phonemes from lexemes to create a more free-flowing speech. For example, the lexeme ‘interesting’ would more commonly be pronounced as ‘intresting’. Similarly, the lexeme ‘library’ would be more commonly pronounced as ‘libry’.
    • Elision can also be seen in many function words too such as ‘going to’, which when elided (verb form of elision) becomes ‘gonna’. Do not confuse this with the process of assimilation and some students do. Similar examples include ‘wanna’, ‘kinda’, ‘shoulda’ and ‘lotsa’.
      • The reason this is elision is that ultimately a phoneme has been removed from one of the two clustered lexemes. For example, ‘lotsa’ is the combination of ‘lots of’. Now, if you say it slowly and stop after you the say the ‘o’ in ‘of’ you’ll notice you end on a sound similar to the schwa sound (like ‘a’). Hence, the ‘f’ is removed from ‘of’ and you end up with ‘lotsa’. This same process can be applied to all of the examples I mentioned above.
  • Assimilation
    • Assimilation is also a common phonological process by which one sound becomes more like a nearby sound. This can occur either within a word or between words. In rapid speech, for example, “handbag” is often pronounced as ‘hambag’
    • Assimilation has also occurred in Standard English too! For example, the Latin prefix in- ‘not, non-, un-‘ appears in English as il-, im-. and ir- in the words illegal, immoral, impossible and irresponsible as well as the unassimilated original form in- in indecent and incompetent.
    • Some words would only be affected by assimilation, and some words would only be affected elision. But many words would be affected both by assimilation and by elision. And when a word is affected by assimilation as well as elision, its shape changes not just a little, but considerably. Thus, for example, in “went back”, the ‘t’ gets elided, and the sequence becomes “wen’ back”. Now the sound ‘n’ occurs before the sound ‘b’. So the ‘n’ readily assimilates to ‘m’. And the sequence then becomes “wem’ back”. Similarly, the word group “He isn’t coming” becomes “He isn’ coming” through the elision of ‘t’, and then becomes “He isng’ coming” through the assimilation of ‘n’. In the same way, the word “handbag” becomes “han’bag” through the elision of ‘d’, and then “ham’bag” through the assimilation of ‘n’.
  • Insertion/Addition
    • Insert (or addition) is the idea that we add a phoneme to a lexeme for ease of pronunciation.
      • For example, ‘athlete’ may sometimes be pronounced as ‘athelete’.


  • Ellipsis
    • Similar to elision, this is the process of omitting ‘whole words’ out of sentences. Do not confuse elision with ellipsis and trust me, many students do! Also understand that elision has one ‘l’, whereas ellipsis has two.
    • For example, ‘Got the time?’ is an example of a fragmented sentence that has to succumb to the process of ellipsis. In this example, ‘have you’ has been omitted and has not affected the intended meaning. You’ll often find that words removed are often function (i.e. grammatical) words, whereas the content words remain to ensure intelligibility of information.

In addition to saving time and making our speech much smoother, can speech economisation serve another purpose? Definitely! In casual conversation with friends, it can make us appear friendlier and more socially relatable.

I can definitely relate to this. I have found that when I am tutoring, I try to stay away from the extremities of speech economisation as I wish to appear more professional to my students. However, when I am at a party or a BBQ, I have noticed that I make my Australian accent much ‘broader’ and therefore more characteristic of the above informal features.

Now, by no means is this list complete – to keep it simple for you, I’ve named just some of the main forms of speech economisation!

On a side note, I have found this goldmine of a resource:

This website has many examples of spoken transcripts to analyse and definitions for many key spoken linguistic terms!

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