Aretha Franklin’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T. is a popular choice for singing contests, but a lot of singers stumble over the ‘spelling’ part of the song. It feels too crowded, so they drop a letter, usually the C. If you lose a letter, you lose the meaning of the word Respect. Try adding a letter instead. To make the letters of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. fit more comfortably, add a whisper of a y.
Listen to Aretha. She starts spelling out Respect at (1.31). Listen hard and you’ll hear the ghost of a y linking two letters, twice in the word R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Which letters need linking? Why does she choose a y for the job? Would any other letter do the job as well?
Did you hear it? Aretha puts a y /j/ between the letters E and S and a y /j/ between the letter P and E. Why? Because when you’re saying the names of the letters, S is pronounced ‘ess’ /ˈɛs/ and P is pronounced ‘pee’ /ˈpiː/. One starts with a vowel sound and the other ends with a vowel sound. The letter E /ˈiː/ is all vowel sound, at both ends.
In English, to make the language flow smoothly, we use a neutral sound to link words that end in vowels and words that start with vowels. Try singing the spelling part of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. with the y /j/ sound linking the ES and the PE and then try without using it. Do you notice the difference? One fits the music, one doesn’t.
The sound of the y /j/ isn’t strong. It’s almost inaudible. Don’t over-pronounce it. Aretha doesn’t. It’s a shape, not a shout.
By the way, y /j/ isn’t the only sound we use to link words that start or end with vowels. Do you know the other sound?
© Sing Better English, 2014