Learn English – Adele’s pronunciation – Can’t recognise some sounds in ‘Rolling in the Deep’


I've listened to Rolling in the deep many times.
But I still can't hear the words being pronounced, even when I know what they are.

Think of me in the depths of your despair .

In "in the depths of your" Adele seems to be producing different sounds, or maybe different words. Is she linking the words together so I hear different words?

So what is the normal production when these words link together? Why do they sound different? What are the phonological and phonetic processes involved?

I am not a native speaker.

Best Answer

There are several interesting phonological and phonetic aspects of Adele's pronunciation of this line:

Think of me in the depths of your despair

Of course, the pronunciation of a sentence will never be the same twice. Here is the version I'm working from. It's from Youtube. This lyric begins at 1.26.

Two of the things that make Adele's singing interesting to listen to are that a) she uses a lot of genuine features of very modern regional London English pronunciation in her songs and doesn't usually convert to RP or an affected American accent, and b) she uses a lot of genuine features of connected speech, including weak forms, even though she is singing.

This means that you will hear many beautiful instances of glottal stops in between vowels, vocalised /l/s at the end of syllables and the occasional use of th-fronting amongst many other features.

So, if you're used to American English or other rhotic forms of English, one of the first things you will notice is that there are no /r/s pronounced at the end of the words your or despair. This is because South Eastern varieties of British English only pronounce /r/ when it occurs before a vowel.

You will also notice that the word of is pronounced with the same vowel that we find at the beginning and end of the word America, namely a schwa /ə/. This is the way this word always sounds when it isn't stressed or doesn't occur at the end of a sentence. It does not have the same vowel we hear in the word lot.

So far all of this is quite normal stuff. But there are three interesting aspects to the pronunciation of this sentence here. The first is an example of perseverative assimilation. I'll explain below:

The digraph "th" can represent the sound /θ/ which we find in the word think or theta. In grammatical words like this, that, then, these, those and so forth, however, it usually represents the sound /ð/ that we find in the word the. Now, very often in English when we get a word ending in /n/ followed by a word beginning with /ð/, both the /n/ and the /ð/ sounds change and become similar to each other. Consider:

  • In the end

Firstly the /n/ changes so that it moves from its normal position. We now make it on the back of our top teeth. Secondly, the /ð/ changes so that it becomes a nasal sound. In other words it also becomes an /n/ made on the back of our top teeth. So instead of saying:

  • ɪn ði end

We often say:

  • ɪn ni end

Remember though that both of those /n/ sounds will be made on the back of the top teeth. This is exactly what happens when Adele sings this lyric. She pronounces it like this:

  • Think of me, in ne ...

The next thing you'll notice is that in the word depths we have a lovely example of th cluster simplification. This time it's the th we find in think not the one we find in those. The symbol we use to represent it is: /θ/. There is a phonological rule in English that when a word internal /θ/ sound is surrounded on either side by consonants, the /θ/ may be dropped (the technical word is elided). So for example, the word fifths, /fɪfθs/, is often pronounced "fifs", /fɪfs/. This is what we find in Adele's pronunciation of depths, which she pronounces perfectly correctly as /deps/.

The last thing is that Adele's vowel in the word your is a bit unusual. This might be an affectation from singing, or it might be part of her accent. Instead of pronouncing your with the vowel /ɔ:/ she seems to be using a glide, a diphthong, which we might represent as /ɔʊ/.

We might expect someone singing to pronounce this line like this:

  • θɪŋk ɒv mi ɪn ði depθs ɒv jɔ: dɪspeə

However, Adele actually sings:

  • θɪŋk əv mi ɪn nə deps əv jɔʊ dɪspeə