Can Fast Speech and Word Reductions Denote Levels of Politeness?
Although language superstitions may often mislead people into believing that fast speech rules such as /h/ reductions are in fact incorrect ways of speaking, there are some reductions that are context dependent. These reductions can denote different levels of politeness. One such example is ‘you’ reductions. While we teach our clients how to achieve palatalization such as ‘didn’t chu’ or ‘would ju’ over word boundaries to improve rhythm, we do not recommend reducing the ‘you’ pronoun into ‘ya’. Sometimes in informal situations, native speakers of English may reduce the ‘you’ to sound like ‘ya’. Awareness of this reduction has made its way into popular culture. Pop songs titled “Don’t Cha” and “Hey Ya” have infiltrated the airwaves in the past few years. ‘You’ is frequently shortened to ‘ya’ in text messages and ‘y’all’ has made a surprising comeback in informal conversations.
The descriptive approach will tell us that there is no such thing as “wrong” or “improper” language. While this may be true, we should also remember that language follows many politeness rules that determine the appropriateness of certain styles in particular situations. Be aware that reducing ‘you’ to ‘ya’ should be confined to informal situations, because it is a term of address that denotes much less respect than the regular pronoun. When in doubt, it’s best not to reduce ‘you’, and in professional relationships it is definitely not advised. Reductions certainly have an important place in the English language. It can help us achieve clarity and rhythm, but it is important to be aware of the subtle nuances in meaning and politeness that our choices in words and reductions may denote.