The Four Tops: American Ghosts

Some of you have asked if ghosts are a feature of British English alone. Good question, but no. Ghosts haunt American English too. Listen to the The Four Tops singing Reach Out I’ll Be There. Can you hear them pronouncing the t of Reach Out?

As a native speaker, I know Levi Stubbs and is singing out, even though all I can hear is the sound ow. I know that the t is there. I can tell by the shape of Levi’s mouth and by his breathing that it’s there. A ghost of a sound, but essential to the sense of the song. Reach ow is nonsense in English. Reach out makes perfect sense.

Levi ghosts the t. He finishes the word out with his tongue resting quietly behind his top teeth. The audience can hear the difference when the song is sung. It’s subtle but essential. Ignore the ghosts of English at your peril.

Try saying the word out and notice where your tongue ends up and the shape of your mouth. When you finish the word out properly, your tongue ends up behind your top teeth. Now try saying ow. Your mouth ends the word with your lips forward and your tongue relaxed, free in the middle of your mouth. It’s nowhere near your top teeth. Do you notice the difference?

Be careful when you learn English songs by sound alone. Always check the lyrics to be sure that you’re welcoming in the ghosts.

© Sing Better English, 2014

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