"Water Lilies" Claude Monet, 1914
AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: reduced forms in spoken American English.
RS: We're talking about forms like whaddaya -- meaning "what do you," as in "whaddaya say?" "Whaddaya Say?" is also the title of a popular teaching book on reduced forms by Nina Weinstein.
AA: She did extensive research on the subject as a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, and as a teaching fellow at Harvard.
NINA WEINSTEIN: "There were a lot of assumptions. People felt that maybe it was a sort of uneducated kind of speech or maybe it was caused by informality or things like this. So my master's thesis is actually on what causes reduced forms.
"And what I found was speed of speech was statistically significant as a cause for reduced forms, not informality. Though in informal speech we tend to speak more quickly, and so we think it's the informality, but actually it's the speed of speech."
RS: "What do you find? Do you find certain patterns of reductions? Is there a way in which you can almost predict, if you are a speaker of English as a foreign language, that you can almost predict when or how it's going to happen?"
NINA WEINSTEIN: "Yes, yes -- in fact, you can learn the reduced forms before. There are fifty to seventy common reduced forms that everyone should know from a listening point of view. Sometimes, I think, teachers feel that students will just pick this up. And they do pick up some, but they don't pick up all of them."
AA: "Can you give us a few of the most common reduced forms?"
NINA WEINSTEIN: "The three most common reduced forms are wanna, which is the spoken form of 'want to'; gonna, which is the spoken form of 'going to' plus a verb; and hafta, which is the spoken form of 'have to.' And one of these forms will occur about every two minutes."
AA: "On average in a conversation?"
NINA WEINSTEIN: "Yes, in unscripted spoken English."
AA: "That's amazing. And we're talking about common, everyday speech. And yet I could see maybe some students who are learning English who want to maybe apply for a job or meet with an employer or someone, a professor, and maybe they're afraid that they're going to sound uneducated or that they're too informal. What do you say about that?"
NINA WEINSTEIN: "Informality -- informality actually is a very, very large part of American English. And as I tell my students, the majority of English is informal, though we do have situations that call for formality. I don't think that students should worry about their own use of the reduced forms because non-native speakers generally don't reach the speed of speech to have reductions. And so their speech will not reduce naturally.
"I don't advise students unnaturally adapting these forms because, as I said, they're a natural flow of spoken English. But what I do suggest that they do is, if they want to sound more natural, regardless of whether it's an interview situation or just in everyday speech, they could adopt the three most common reduced forms in their speech because these are almost like vocabulary items. They're that common.
"As far as the job interview goes, as I said, I don't think students should adopt the fifty to seventy common reduced forms in their own speech. But they need to understand the interviewer, who will be using reduced forms."
RS: "Now beyond these top three, is there a top ten?"
NINA WEINSTEIN: "I wouldn't say there's a top ten. If I were to just give you some really common ones, one of the more common question forms would be 'what do you/what are you' changing to whaddaya. You can put that together with want to -- 'what do you want to' would be naturally pronounced as whaddaya wanna: 'Whaddaya wanna do?' 'Whaddaya wanna have?' Of course, we talked about gonna, which is 'going to' plus verb.
"We've got gotta, which is 'have got to': 'I've got to do this.' 'I've got to go there.' I think those are common, but I think the ones that are represented in 'Whaddya Say?' are really the most common. And I can't cut it off at ten, because actually in my research I found three hundred and five reduced forms."
A: Nina Weinstein, the author of "Whaddaya Say? Guided Practice in Relaxed Speech," speaking with us from VOA's Los Angeles bureau.
RS: And we gotta go. That's Wordmaster for this week. To learn more about American English, visit our Web site, voanews.com/wordmaster.
AA: And our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.