Double assimilation

/kʊdnt/ → /kʊbm/, /wʊdnt/ → /wʊbm/, etc.


The assimilated new phoneme can produce a domino effect  which triggers further processes of assimilation. This gives rise to very interesting cases, not at all infrequent.

Have a look at this example:


sound_loud_speaker I couldn’t be more pleased. |aɪ ˈkʊdnt bi ˈmɔː ˈpliːzd|


Now follow the different stages of the process:

  1. First, the /t/ dissapears, which can happen because of elision or just because the /t/ is frequently dropped in negative contractions.
  2. Then the /n/ becomes a /m/because, now we no longer have a /t/, it is followed by a bilabial /b/.
  3. Finally, the /d/ is turned into a /b/ because now the next sound is a bilabial /m/.
  4. So, /kʊdnt/ becomes /kʊbm/.


sound_loud_speaker I couldn’t be more pleased. |aɪ ˈkʊbm bi ˈmɔː ˈpliːzd|


And here there are some examples from real life:


sound_loud_speaker And some people thought, It couldn’t be (Julian Barnes, Agony Column).

sound_loud_speaker And couldn’t believe that, actually, they put people’s lives in danger as well (Therese Gannon, BBC4).

sound_loud_speaker My take on this is that, had the potato not failed again in the summer of 1846, we wouldn’t be here talking about the famine at all | wʊdm bi ˈhɪə | The /d/ is not assimilated in this case (Cormac Ó Gráda, BBC4; notice that he’s an Irish speaker of English).


Now have a look at these examples where the /d/ is dropped because of elision and then the /n/ is assimilated into /m/. As you can see, in the first case the assimilation takes place at word boundaries whereas in the second case it occurs within a single word.

sound_loud_speaker OK, it can happen that someone reads a line with a different inflection or emphasis and then I find myself changing my reading because he’s changed his.  | faɪm maɪˈself | (Cambridge Proficiency test).

sound_loud_speaker “Temporal landmarks help stop the feeling that time’s whizzing by. I bet, for example, you retain memories of events that happen near the beginning or end of term – they’re kind of landmarks – better than those that happened somewhere in between”. “So?” “So establish a few landmarks – remember to mark special events like birthdays properly with some sort of celebration. Notice how the speaker pronounces /ˈlæmmɑːk/ (Cambridge Advanced test).


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