The path of least resistance

On my delayed flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong early on Sunday morning, I heard both the senior purser and the safety procedure recording pronounce the ‘t’ in ‘fastened’ (“please ensure your seat belt is securely fast-end”).

I’m not sure if they were taught this pronunciation, or were just being overly cautious with a word they were unsure of (it seemed a bit rude to ask), but it’s just one of many examples where a sound can be elided (or missed) when two syllables (or words) come together.  If we have to pronounce several similar sounds in rapid succession, it’s often easier just to skip one or more of them.

Elision can form either regional or global pronunciation standards, and ‘fasten’, ‘listen’, ‘moisten’, and ‘whistle’ are all examples of the ‘t’ sound being elided between the ‘s’ and the final consonant sound.  The standard pronunciation in every English-speaking country ignores the middle ‘t’ sound, although ‘fast’, ‘list’, and ‘moist’ usually have a clear ‘t’ at the end.

A non-standard elision, which was fairly common in the UK, but brought to the world by Ali G (the Sacha Baron Cohen character), is ‘innit’ in place of ‘isn’t it’.  Perhaps in time it will become the standard pronunciation, but currently it is still quite informal, and definitely inappropriate for high tea with the Queen.  Speaking of the Queen (ERII), she pronounces ‘often’ as ‘awf’n’, whereas the common pronunciations are ‘off-ten’ and ‘off-en’. Thankfully, these are all acceptable variations, unlike ‘fast-en’.