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Phonetics with... Story of My Life (One Direction) (RP)
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Stripping pronunciation naked as in an X-Ray machine to see what is inside. We're going to see how English pronunciation really works when talking (or singing) with the help of the British band One Direction. Make sure you see under all the tabs for explanations and activities.

We will see how word pronunciations change when they are into the speech flow, how grammatical words get weaker and the T and the R sounds change depending on where they go.

Click here Story of My Life - One Direction If you want to see the song with normal lyrics and explanations about the language instead of about the pronunciation.

Phonetic transcription of the song:

1
rɪʔn ɪn ði:z wɔ:lz ɑ:
ðə stɔ:rɪz ðæD a: kænʔ ɪkspln
aɪ li:v mɑ: hɑ:D əʊpən
bəD ɪʔ steɪz raɪʔ hɪə emtɪ fə deɪz
2
ʃi: təʊl mi: ɪn ðə mɔ:nɪŋ
ʃi: Dən fi:l ðə seɪm əbD əs ɪn hɜ: bəʊnz
ɪʔ si:mz tə mi: ðəʔ wen aɪ daɪ
ði:z wɜ:dz wɪl bi: rɪʔn ɒn maɪ stəʊn
3
æn aɪl bi: gɒn, gɒn tənd
ðə graʊn bɪni:ð maɪ fi:D ɪz əʊpən waɪd
ðə weɪ ðæD ɑ: bi:n həʊldɪn ɒn tu: taɪd
wɪð nʌθɪn ɪn bətwi:n
4
ðə stɔ:rɪ ə maɪ laɪf, aɪ teɪk hɜ: həʊm
aɪ draɪv ɔ:l naɪʔ tə ki:p hɜ: wɔ:m
ən taɪm ɪz frəʊzən
5
ðə stɔ:rɪ ə maɪ laɪf, aɪ gɪv hɜ: həʊp
aɪ spend ə lʌv əntɪl ʃi:z brəʊk ɪnsd
ðə stɔ:rɪ əv maɪ laɪf
6
rɪʔn ɒn ði:z wɔ:lz ɑ:
ðə kʌləz ðəD a: kænʔ tʃeɪndʒ
ə li:v mɑ: hɑ:D əʊpən
bəD ɪʔ steɪz raɪ
D hɪər ɪn ɪts keɪdʒ
7
a nəʊ ðæD ɪn ðə mɔ:nɪŋ naʊ
əl si: ʌs ɪn ðə laɪD əpɒn ə hɪl
ɒlðəʊ aɪ æm brəʊkən
mɑ: hɑ:D ɪz ʌntmd stɪl
8
ənd aɪl bi: gɒn, gɒn tənʔ
ðə fɑ:ə bəni:ð ma fi:d ɪz bɜ:nɪŋ braɪd
ðə weɪ ðæD aɪ bɪn həʊldɪn ɒn səʊ taɪd
wɪð nʌθɪn ɪn bətwi:n
9
ðə stɔ:rɪ əv ma laɪf, aɪ teɪk hɜ: həʊm
aɪ draɪv ɔ:l naɪʔ tə ki:p hɜ: wɔ:m
ən taɪm ɪz frəʊzən
10
ðə stɔ:rɪ əv ma laɪf, aɪ gɪv hɜ: əʊp
a spend ə lʌv əntɪl ʃi:z brəʊk ɪnsd
ðə stɔ:rɪ ə ma laɪf
11
ənd aɪ bɪn wDɪŋ fɔ: ðɪs taɪm tə kʌm ərnd
bəʔ bbɪ, rʌnɪn æftə ju: ɪz laɪk tʃsɪŋ ðə klaʊdz
12
ðə stɔ:rɪ ə maɪ laɪf, aɪ teɪk ər həʊm
a draɪv ɔ:l naɪʔ tə ki:p hə wɔ:m
ən taɪm ɪz frəʊzən
13
ðə stɔ:rɪ ə maɪ laɪf, aɪ gɪv ɜ: həʊp
a spend ə lʌv əntɪl ʃi:z brəʊk ɪnsd
ðə
stɔ: əv maɪ laɪf
ðə
stɔ: əm maɪ laɪf
ðə
stɔ: əm ma laɪf
ðə
stɔ: əv maɪ laɪf

You can check the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) here.

When people talk (or sing) you can forget about perfect pronunciation. A perfect pronunciation will sound very unnatural, even incorrect in many cases. With this song, we can show you how the English language really works, and maybe you will understand better why you have sometimes problems understanding, especially if you still think that every word must always be pronounced in the same way.

SURROUNDING INFLUENCE

Some sounds are influenced by the sounds surrounding, before or after them. For example you can see OF pronounced /əm/ before MY at the end of the song in "The story of my life" (Paragraph 13, Line 4), or MY pronounced /mɑ:/ under the influence of HEART (/hɑ:t/) in "I leave my heart open" (P1L3 and P7L4).

THE LETTER R

In British English the R is only pronounced if it's followed by a vowel. This happens a lot in American English too, but only when they are singing (black people there often do it when they are speaking too). In this song you can see this happening all the time, except once (towards the end, when they say "I take her home" (P12L1) he says /aɪ teɪk ər həʊm/, probably under the influence of his native Irish accent, that is almost absent but here it shows).

THE LETTER T

This is probably the most complex phoneme in the English language, because it may be pronounced in different ways, depending on the position of the sound and also on the preferences of the speaker. Here we find almost all the pronunciations of this letter, and because we have different boys singing, we can also find different preferences when there is a choice.

/t/ It is most of the times pronounced like this when it goes before a vowel. In the first paragraph you can see it in the words STORIES /stɔ:rɪz/ (P1L2) and EMPTY /emtɪ/ (P1L4) (and yes, no /p/)

/D/ When the T goes between vowels, AmE always pronounces it like a very quick and tense /d/. In BrE this is very common too. In this song you can see it happening all the time. In the first paragraph you can see it in  "... that I can't..." /ðæD a: kænʔ/ (P1L2), "... heart open" /hɑ:D əʊpən/  (p1L3) and in "But It stays..." /bəD ɪʔ steɪz/ (P1L4).

/ʔ/ This is a glottal stop. Instead of pronouncing the T with the tip of your tongue, we pronounce it in our throat, suddenly closing our vocal cords and making a stop in our throat. This sound is very common when the T is not followed by a vowel, for example you can see it in the first paragraph, in the line "...it stays right here..." /ɪʔ steɪz raɪʔ hɪə/ (P1L4). IT and RIGHT end in a T but it is followed by a consonant. It is also common before an /n/ as you can see in the first word of the song, WRITTEN /rɪʔn/ (P1L1) (in this position it is more common in BrE than in AmE). It is possible, but less common, at the end of a word even if the next word begins with a vowel, but it is very common in CAN'T, as you can see in "... I can't explain" /a: kænʔ ɪkspln/ (P1L2).

/d/ It is also common to find this sound instead of /ʔ/ when it is not followed by a vowel. The sound is usually very week so it's hard to hear. One of the boys here does it all the time. He sings the third paragraph and there we can see the end of the first and third lines with TONIGHT /tənd/ (P3L1) and TIGHT /taɪd/(P3L3). But the next time we hear tonight in the song (P8L1)) it is the more common /tənʔ/ again.

STRONG vs WEAK FORMS

Grammatical words (prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, auxiliaries, etc) have no meaning, only function, and so they are usually unstressed. That makes them weak, and due to the rhythm of the English language, unstressed syllables get very weak, and their pronunciation often changes. Most grammatical words have one or several different weak forms, for example:

FOR /fɔ:/ (P11L1) changes to /fə/ (P1L4)or even /f/
I /aɪ/ (P1L3) changes to /a:/ (P1L2), /a/ (P7L1), /ɑ:/ (P3L3), /ɑ/ or /ə/ (P6L3)
MY /maɪ/ (P3L2) changes to /ma:/, /ma/ (P8L2), /mɑ:/ (P1L3), /mɑ/ or /mə/
OF /ɒf/ always changes to /əv/ (P5L3) or /ə/ (P4L1)
HER /hɜ:/ (P2L2) changes to /hə/ (P12L2), /ɜ:/ or /ə/ (P12L1)
You can see lots and lots of examples of weak forms in this song, and many variations of the same word, depending on the singer and the situation.

OTHERS

If you pay attention you can find many other "unexpected" pronunciations. For example:

EMPTY /emtɪ/ (P1L4)= a /p/ is easily lost after /m/
TOLD /təʊl/ (P2L1)= a /d/ is easily lost after /l/
AND /æn/ (P3L1), /ən/ (P4L3)= a /d/ is also easily lost after /n/
FIRE/fɑ:ə/ (P8L2)= The diphthong /ɑɪə/ (and also /aʊə/) is now commonly pronounced /ɑ:ə/ (or sometimes even /ɑ:/), especially in BrE.
I'VE BEEN /aɪ bɪn/ (P8L3) and /ɑ: bi:n/ (P3L3)= The "Perfect" pronunciation would be /aɪv bi:n/, but the auxiliary HAVE ('ve) sometimes disappears altogether, and BEEN has a week form /bɪn/
HOPE /əʊp/ (P10L1)= In this song we usually hear /həʊp/ (P5L1), sometimes /həʊp/ with a very week /h/, and once we hear /əʊp/. Sometimes, some people drop the initial /h/ sound (dialectal or uneducated people mostly). In this case it is probably an influence of his home dialect again.
NOTHING /nʌθɪn/ (P3L4)= A final /ŋ/ is often changed to /n/ when the next word begins with a vowel, as when he says "nothing in between" /nʌθɪn ɪn bətwi:n/ in the eighth paragraph. You can see more examples of it in this song.

So this is real English. This is life. This is the reason why you must listen to English a lot, a real lot, so your mind unconsciously gets used to all those changes and you can finally understand people speaking English well, and not just word perfect CDs by the BBC or Oxford University Press. If you're looking for real English, you'll find thousands of videos packed with it on this website. Now you can understand why we decided to create this website in the first place, especially since something similar happens with grammar, as you can see in the second paragraph, second line: "She don't feel the same", instead of the more correct "She doesn't".

 

1
Written in these walls are
The stories that I can't explain
I leave my heart open
But it stays right here empty for days
2
She told me in the morning
She don't feel the same about us in her bones
It seems to me that when I die
These words will be written on my stone
3
And I'll be gone, gone tonight,
The ground beneath my feet is open wide,
The way that I've been holding on too tight
With nothing in between.
4
The story of my life, I take her home
I drive all night to keep her warm
And time is frozen
5
The story of my life, I give her hope
I spend her love until she's broke inside
The story of my life
6
Written on these walls are
The colours that I can't change
I leave my heart open
But it stays right here in its cage.
7
I know that in the morning now
I'll see us in the light upon a hill
Although I am broken
My heart is untamed still.
8
And I'll be gone, gone tonight
The fire beneath my feet is burning bright
The way that I've been holding on so tight
With nothing in between.
9
The story of my life, I take her home
I drive all night to keep her warm and time
Is frozen
10
The story of my life, I give her hope
I spend her love until she's broke inside
The story of my life
11
And I've been waiting for this time to come around
But, baby, running after you is like chasing the clouds.
12
The story of my life, I take her home
I drive all night to keep her warm
And time is frozen.
13
The story of my life, I  give her hope
I spend her love until she's broke inside
The story of my life
The story of my life
The story of my life
The story of my life

4:08            
 
 

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