Won'tchew, don'tchew, can'tchew separate your words?
August 30, 2007 8:55 AM   Subscribe

What is the origin of pronouncing "I've got you" like "I've gotchew?" Does this go back to ancient English speaking times, or is this merely a sloppy, learned Americanism? Is there a name for it?

I don't find it any easier to say, "It's whatchoo do to me" than, "It's what you do to me," and I'm just trying to figure out why anybody would actually record themselves saying/singing it that way, for the ages. (Yes, it's a bunch of popular songs that's recently been irking me.) But I don't need verification that I'm OCD when it comes to this, as I'm already quite aware. Thanks. :)
posted by iguanapolitico to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can't answer your question, but it's really easy to tell what kind of performance education background a person has had by whether they do this onstage or in their recordings. Many teachers will stop at nothing to drill it out of your brain.
posted by hermitosis at 9:05 AM on August 30, 2007

I thought it was some consonant variant of dipthong...eh..ing, with the person finding it easier not to do a glottal stop.

IANAL (I am not a linguist).

Many languages have different breathing patterns and mouth movements. You might not find it easier to avoid glottal stops, but I kind of do. Hopeat helps.
posted by cashman at 9:08 AM on August 30, 2007

I heard somewhere that the infamous "Whatchu talkin about Willis?" came from a typo in the script, and Gary Coleman just read it as it was printed.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:10 AM on August 30, 2007

Best answer: It's not sloppy so much as it's speedy. What you're referring to are called reduced forms linguistically. This makes English harder to understand for ESL students for sure.

As far as your questin about why someone would record themselves speaking like this, my guess would be because speaking/singing like that sounds like English. It's also a way to establish American "bona fides" if you will (I hear the Rolling Stones doing it for example and I think it makes them sound more American). Spoken language is more informal than written language, so I don't think this mannerism is sloppy so much as less formal and perhaps hurried.
posted by jessamyn at 9:11 AM on August 30, 2007

To answer the question, I think its just an Americanism. Might consider it a regional dialect.

Another form, that I'd use, would be, "I've gotcha." Frankly, I don't even remember where I picked it up, other than popular culture.
posted by Atreides at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2007

Best answer: Assimilation is totally natural for all languages, and has nothing to do with a strange practice being handed down from years prior. It is simply the result of the natural shortcut we make in speaking.

Other easy examples are bilabial sounds. Before a B or P, any 'n' sound will change to an 'm' sound. You don't say the "in" in input with your tongue on the roof of your mouth as you would any other n, rather, you purse your lips together in preparation for the p turning it into an 'm' sound.

I had a Korean teacher whose name was "Yook-Mi," but the rules of assimilation dictated that ending a word with k and then starting the next with m, at least in the less aspirated way that Korean consonants end words, meant changing her name to what sounded more like "Yoong-Mi."

Fun, right? I'm sure you can think of plenty more examples of words that change just by putting them next to other words.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 9:20 AM on August 30, 2007

Thank you (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

I Gotcha! (Aha-ha you thought I didn't see you now didn't ya)
posted by Pollomacho at 9:24 AM on August 30, 2007

I've already earned derision on MeFi for this (not sure why), but as a complete off-topic request, could you please not use "I am OCD about ___?" in the future? This phrasing doesn't even make sense, first of all, "I am Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder about ___?" and secondly, you really aren't, unless you have painful hallmarks of the disorder. I have OCD and this phrasing irks me greatly because it's tossed off like the disorder is no big deal, or sometimes even worse, that it's a desireable trait to have, like, "I wish I was OCD so I could organize my CDS better."

Anyway, personal irritant, because I don't notice many other disorders being treated so flippantly or cutely, except for depression. I apologize if you actually have this disorder but the users of this phrasing frequently do not.

As to your question, I think it's that people talk too fast. Words slur together and become something else. It's sloppiness and laziness. I'm curious though - do other languages besides English have this problem? I would assume so, but perhaps not?
posted by agregoli at 9:25 AM on August 30, 2007 [3 favorites]

I can't think of any language where this doesn't happen to some extent. Some languages, such as Hungarian, avoid the confusion by having "rules" about how sound shifts should be represented in spelling, and these rules prevent some amount of confusion. English doesn't bother with that.

Why are you assuming that it's any better to pronounce things one way than another? For instance, I've been pronouncing "salmon" as "sal-mon" instead of "samen" for years. That doesn't make me a better speaker of English.

Well, "salmon" isn't pronounced with an "l" except by people who don't know how to pronounce it. Check any dictionary - in English, as far as I can research it, it was never pronounced with an "l." It had the letter artificially added to it to reflect the Latin root word. So while, in the spirit of anarchy, anyone can pronounce anything in any manner wished, some pronunciations are "wrong." Salmon pronounced with an "l" is one of them. Very few people do it, plus it has the added problem of making the speaker sound uneducated or, at best, very naive. It's certainly wrong in the sense that it doesn't adhere to any actual standard or regional dialect or any sort of slang usage, and it would be perceived as rather unfortunately mangled by most intelligent folks. It doesn't make you a worse person, though. But it certainly would imply to some that your English is not as good as it could be, and not because of a specific dialect or folksiness, but simply because to say "saLmon" is, well, wrong.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:35 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, this is casual assimilation in action. With an example like "gotcha", it's important to note the whole path. It's not just some bizarre leap from "got you" to "gotcha"; there's an intermediate "got ya" in there, and the difference between a carefully annunciated "got ya" and "gotcha" is the effort required for a full stop in the former.

If you're trained to not make that reduction, it may sound conspicuous; for that matter, a really conspicuous use (say, drawn out or emphasized in a pop song) will stand out even though casual incidences might not so much. Rendering it in text as slang/dialect may call attention as well, and it's worth noting that some news publications habitually unreduce spoken reductions in quotes as a matter of editorial policy, which may present the notion that people don't speak that way in formal contexts.

There's a pretty good list of English-language reductions on Wikipedia; I don't think there's a single one of those that I haven't used, and I disagree even with their casting of "I'ma" (and relative "I'monna") as necessarily ironic.
posted by cortex at 9:36 AM on August 30, 2007

Best answer: I speak a lot of languages, but I'm not a linguist. However, it occurred to me that these "slurred" sounds occur across many languages with astonishing consistency.

Take "d" + "y" for instance, where "y" is definitely a consonant.

Say very slowly, "I fed your dog." Feel where your tongue is as it makes the shift from the "d" in "fed" to the "y" in "your."

Now say it quickly, so the "d" and "y" blend. It sounds sort of like a "j." This is because your tongue can only move so fast. Speed up your speech and it starts finding reasonable "halfway" points between sounds. Because English has many words which end in "t" or "d" and "y" starts one of the most common words in the language ("you") and varients, English provides ample opportunity for this popular speech shift to the "j" sound. (I'd take issue with the question's transcription of the sound as "ch." Think about it, it's more of a "j.")

Hungarian (by way of example) forms imperatives in a way that allows for many of this same example of blending, where two sounds become something like "j" or "z." But other languages have their own "common" blended sounds and sometimes they become standardized and fixed in spelling, sometimes not.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:47 AM on August 30, 2007

(I'd take issue with the question's transcription of the sound as "ch." Think about it, it's more of a "j.")

Well, it's a matter of voiced vs. unvoiced; I might say either of "whatcha want?" and "howja get here?", for example, and make a distinction between the voicedness of the two at the point of reduction, based on the voicedness of the components.
posted by cortex at 9:57 AM on August 30, 2007

I don't know about "howja", I more often hear "howdja". It's actually kind of hard to say "howja".
posted by oneirodynia at 10:15 AM on August 30, 2007

Japanese example:

Shi-na-ku-te-wa --> SHI-NAK-CHA!

I taught/demo'd this topic in my eikaiwa classes 1992-1995. It was my most popular elective by far, which was a bummer since this class was my last class of my work-week schedule.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:18 AM on August 30, 2007

Years ago, I was visiting a French couple who lived in Toulouse. One weekend, we went to visit the in-laws, who lived out in the country, and had done their whole lives. My French, which really was pretty good, initially completely failed me. At lunch, the father-in-law asked me what sounded like: "Tu v'duh vang-uh?" (only imagine all the words sort of blurred together). Eventually, my brain translated this as: "Tu veux du vin?" ("Want some wine?")

So yeah, what everyone else has said.
posted by rtha at 10:31 AM on August 30, 2007

Wh- How am I a paran-? Well, I pick up on
those kind o' things. You know, I was
having lunch with some guys from NBC, so
I said ... uh, "Did you eat yet or what?"
and Tom Christie said, "No, didchoo?"
Not, did you, didchoo eat? Jew? No, not
did you eat, but Jew eat? Jew. You get it?
Jew eat?
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:38 AM on August 30, 2007

What jessamyn, Goose, Dee, and cortex said. It's just plain old assimilation, and it's perfectly normal. Do you say "sit-you-ation" or "sichuation"? I thought so. Same thing.

At lunch, the father-in-law asked me what sounded like: "Tu v'duh vang-uh?" (only imagine all the words sort of blurred together). Eventually, my brain translated this as: "Tu veux du vin?" ("Want some wine?")

Raymond Queneau (one of my favorite French authors) wrote an entire novel in respelled colloquial French; the first line, Doukipudonktan, i.e. D'où qu'il pue donc tant ('From where does it stink so much?), is one of the most famous quotes in modern French literature.
posted by languagehat at 10:48 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Texas, with family from Arkansas, and everyone I knew growing up combined words this way. For instance, "what are you" would be "watteryou" or something similar.

So, in addition to all the erudite answers above, I would say it's also a regional dialect, and not at all a recent phenomenon in some parts of the country.
posted by Mavri at 10:59 AM on August 30, 2007

Response by poster: So uh, I guess the original poster of the "sal-mon" comment flamed me badly enough to get his/her comment deleted? Hate it when that happens.

Thank you for taking so much time to address this for me. It's been very interesting. For the record, I certainly run my words together. In the case of something like "won't you," I don't actually put in a full stop and add a pause between the two words. Instead it's, uh, "woantyew." Well, not really; that's a bad example. Actually I'm nowhere near perfect in speech. My spoken words are pretty horrible because I tend to talk too fast and don't think things through. Singing along to songs on the radio, though, with so much time to prepare for what the next line is, it just seems like saying it "correctly" would be easy. I also intentionally say/type things like "gotcha" and "didja" just because a few like that seem to have taken on lives of their own.

agregoli, sorry to have offended. First, I know that "I'm OCD about..." doesn't even make sense grammatically, but you'd have to agree that that usage has made it into our lexicon. Kind of like, uh, the way that "arnCHOO" (gezunteit) is an acceptable pronunciation of "aren't you." Second, well, I guess I could try to just use some word like "nitpicky" to describe how I feel about things I'm irrationally irritated by. I don't really see how this is different than saying, for example, "Call me crazy," or, "He's psycho," when these people haven't actually been diagnosed with any conditions by a physician. It's a word/phrase to describe a behavior. I'm obsessively irritated by this whole cantchew thing, and also about using my vehicle's directional, as I mentioned in another thread (and maybe you called me out there for it as well), and I'm compelled to bitch about these things to no end. (I also behave in a manner that can be described as OCD when, say, I tap my right foot three times, and I'm compelled to then tap my left foot three times as well. It's a PITFA but I've learned to stop myself over the years. It was much worse in childhood.) But I digress. If you're saying this is something that really offends people who suffer from OCD, well, I apologize and will work on that. I'm a pleaser. When I'm not being a selfish bitch. But we're both in Chicagoland, so you earn a pleaser-point.
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:08 AM on August 30, 2007

Response by poster: Mavri, the basic practice of running words together isn't my exact problem ... even though my title does have "separate your words" in it. I'm specifically referring to the addition of the "ch" or "j" sounds in between specific words. Because it kind of seems like an addition to me. I'm familiar with it and have been guilty of it, but I was beginning to suspect that that particular shortcut was more of learned habit than an actual shortening shortcut.

I'm of the "watteryou" following as well. I'd argue that very few of us actually put, you know, pauses, in between many words, unless there's some particular punctuation marks in there. :) And even then, not always s'much.
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:14 AM on August 30, 2007

and everyone I knew growing up combined words this way

That's another important point: the notion of "combining words" in the context of speech is a little erroneous—we're used to seeing words denoted clearly by spaces and other characters in writing, but speech doesn't necessarily have clean stops between words; it's only our familiarity with our fluent languages that let us parse them so easily into words on the fly (which is part of why speech unfamiliar languages seems run together, and why folks speaking them seem to be talking so dang fast, for pretty much any permutation of listener and unfamiliar language).

So "what are you" isn't so distinct (excepting for unusually crisp, careful speech) from "watteryou" in practice—it's a varation in pacing and the relaxation of "are" to something more like "'er", is all.
posted by cortex at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2007

This is a classic example of palatization at a word boundary. Basically, the properties that make up the boundary sounds merge. This is a systematic process in production (it doesn't happen for a combination like 'will you'), common in I think all dialects of American English, is less likely to happen if there is a pause between the two words and is something that listeners adjust for when trying to figure out what the words are.
posted by bluesky43 at 12:11 PM on August 30, 2007

Another Japanese example: I got crossed up because a lot of people were saying hitotsu (which means "one") as shtots.

Dropping the final "u" sound is common; that wasn't the problem. (They do the same thing for the proper pronunciation.) The problem was that the first sound had morphed from "hi" to "shi", and it's common then to drop the "i" sound from "shi".

I'm not yet clear on whether this is a regionalism in Japan or is more common. (The various -bens throw me for a loop.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:35 PM on August 30, 2007

I don't think it's a regional thing, at least in its milder forms. English speakers all over the world do this to some extent. But it is a feature of fast, informal speech, so when a writer wants to portray someone speaking some variety of informal English, they emphasise this by spelling out the assimilated pronunciation.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:52 PM on August 30, 2007

I'm specifically referring to the addition of the "ch" or "j" sounds in between specific words. Because it kind of seems like an addition to me. I'm familiar with it and have been guilty of it, but I was beginning to suspect that that particular shortcut was more of learned habit than an actual shortening shortcut.

Im sari, but wuddaryoo tokkin' gabout?

As people above have explained, the way that we conceive of words does not describe how they are actually spoken. The addition is in your mind because, in the manner that you speak, no ch or j sound would be added. You hear the ch and insert it between the wont and the you. So in your mind it's wontchyoo. When in fact, as anyone can tell you, it's won' chu. Not only is there no t nor a y, the n in "won" is barely pronounced.

Almost? No one says nate eee onn, everyone says nashun. The combination of the t and the end of "won't" and the y at the beginning of "you" are getting the same phonetic treatment as the t and i of nation.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:45 PM on August 30, 2007

I'm from the Midwest, and we say "don'tcha" for "don't you".
posted by wafaa at 4:43 PM on August 30, 2007

It's not just American, and it's not just English. From my experience of other languages (namely German and Japanese), all languages have these linguistic "shortcuts". I wouldn't call it sloppy so much as simply slang.
posted by zardoz at 6:29 PM on August 30, 2007

What an interesting thread! This issue comes up all the time when I teach pronunciation in ESL. It's funny how many people are surprised that we teach students to pronounce words using linking and assimilation and reductions, because they think of this as "sloppy". But really, what we're teaching the students is how to understand the connected speech they hear on a daily basis, and also how to sound more like a native speaker themselves. There's nothing wrong with enunciating each word separately in English, but it isn't what most native speakers do.

Now if only they students would remember that you can SAY "gonna" but you have to WRITE "going to."

I also find that there are regional differences in connected speech. We often use American textbooks for ESL, but I find that Canadian pronunciation in terms of connected speech varies sometimes.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:44 PM on August 30, 2007

Best answer: Actually I'm nowhere near perfect in speech. My spoken words are pretty horrible because I tend to talk too fast and don't think things through.

Please let yourself be convinced that it's this attitude that's wrong—the pronunciations you're talking about are perfectly OK. They're not "sloppy," they're normal, "correct" (if you will) English. There are people who make a living out of convincing others they can't speak or write their own language correctly and selling them bullshit pseudo-grammar and supposedly "correct" pronunciations; don't listen to them. Listen to cortex instead.
posted by languagehat at 7:43 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This thread has been far more interesting than I thought it would be. I find myself not minding this horrific mangling of our fine language as much as I used to. ;)

And I had even thought languagehat would come and commiserate with me.

I feel all learn-ed now, thanks. (Seriously!)

And I will listen to the cortex.
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:04 PM on August 31, 2007

I am utterly incapable of listening to people who don't jam their words together like this. Over-annunciation can be quite disorienting.

Leave the Queen's English to the Queen, I say.

Canadian pronunciation in terms of connected speech varies sometimes.

Albertans tend to pronounce the t's at the ends of words. Maybe that has something to do with it? Everyone else just chops them off.
posted by Reggie Digest at 1:23 PM on August 31, 2007

I find myself not minding this horrific mangling of our fine language as much as I used to. ;)

ha ha ha. This is exactly why this question annoyed me. Saying "don't you" is mangling our fine language. Saying "doncha" is respecting it.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:03 PM on August 31, 2007

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