Where’s the ‘y’ in R.E.S.P.E.C.T.?

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 /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 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.Twith 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


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