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Phonetic reduction, perceptual illusions, and phonotactic legality

Phonetic reduction, perceptual illusions, and phonotactic legality
When: July 13, 2016
Where: Cornell University

Alex McAllister, a 2015 PIRE student, presented data with his PIRE advisor, Matthew T. Carlson, at the 2016 LabPhon conference.

This study probed the relationship between automatic phonotactic repair and speech production, by asking whether the repair structure (a prothetic vowel) may be susceptible to reduction in speech. Spanish productively repairs word-initial /s/-consonant clusters (henceforth #sC) with a prothetic /e/ in both production and perception. We asked whether the initial vowel in Spanish #esC words like espalda ‘back’, which matches the default repair vowel, is more prone to reduction than other initial vowels, such as in aspirina ‘aspirin’. We explore this question in the speech production of 15 speakers of Andalusian Spanish who produced half #esC and half #asC words in isolation (578 tokens). Outright vowel deletion was uncommon, but was more likely with initial /e/ (5%) than initial /a/ (0.3%, one token). Moreover, when the /s/ was realized with greater duration (cf. the common tendency to lenite syllable-final /s/ in Andalusian), shortening of /e/, but not /a/, was observed. These findings provide evidence that reduction may be enabled when the reduced material can be perceptually repaired, leading to the occurrence of apparently illicit sequences in actual speech, e.g. espalda produced as [spalda]. The influence of articulatory, frequency, and other factors on reduction is also evaluated.