Coarticulation and learnability of transparent vowels in vowel harmony

Sara Finley


The representations of transparent vowels in vowel harmony have been of interest to phonologists because of the challenges they pose for constraints on locality and complexity. One proposal is that transparent vowels in back vowel harmony may be intermediate between front and back. The present study uses two artificial language learning experiments to explore the psychological reality of acoustic differences in transparent vowels in back vs. front vowel contexts. Participants were exposed to a back/round vowel harmony language with a neutral vowel that was spliced so that the F2 was lower in back vowel contexts and higher in front vowel contexts (the Natural condition) or the reverse (the Unnatural condition). While only participants in the Natural condition of Experiment 1 were able to learn the behavior of the transparent vowel relative to a No-Training control, there was no difference between the Natural and Unnatural conditions. In Experiment 2, only participants in the Natural condition learned the vowel harmony pattern, though there were no significant differences between the two conditions. No condition successfully learned the behavior of the transparent vowel in Experiment 2. These results suggest that the effects of small differences in the F2 value of transparent back vowels on learnability are minimal.


vowel harmony; transparent vowels; learnability; coarticulation; artificial language learning

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