French liaison refers to the linking of a word-final consonant with the first segment of the following word. The word-final consonant is usually silent. The second segment is a vowel or a glide. Liaison sometimes changes the pronunciation of the consonant. The /s/ in les (the) is pronounced /z/ as a result of liaison.
The pronunciation of liaison follows specific rules. They can be divided into three categories: 1) required liaison; 2) prohibited liaison; 3) optional liaison. Let's look at examples of each.
In the noun phrase un homme (a man), the /n/ of the indefinite article must be pronounced. This is also the case in the verb phrase vous avez (you have). Here the /s/ must be pronounced and it is realized as /z/.
The phrase un homme et une femme (a man and a woman) provides an example of prohibited liaison. The word et retains the silent pronunciation of the word-final consonant. In the phrase les haricots (the beans), the article les is pronounced without liaison. This is because the word haricots has an asprirated h.
In the sentence L'enfant prend un bonbon (The child is taking a candy), liaison is optional. The final consonant of prend can be pronounced. In this case, the word-final consonant is realized as /t/. It can also remain silent. The absence of liaison is more common in formal situations.
Liaison is a common phonological process in French. It can be categorized into three groups: required, prohibited and optional. In certain cases liaison alters the pronunciation of the affected consonant.
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