The Phonetics of Emphatic Vowel Lengthening in English

Aaron Braver, Natalie Dresher, Shigeto Kawahara


While many languages show lexical contrasts based on duration in vowels and consonants, such lexical durational contrasts are usually limited to binary distinctions (Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996). Within the phonetically-driven phonology approach (Hayes and Steraide 2004), one explanation for this fact is that, in the spirit of Dispersion Theory (Liljencrants & Lindblom 1972, Lindblom 1986), listeners have difficulty perceiving contrasts that are above binary. An alternative articulation-based explanation is that this preference is due to difficulties in producing such fine distinctions.

This paper reports two experiments, which support the first, perception-difficulty theory, based on a non-lexical use of phonetic duration: lengthening to express pragmatic emphasis (e.g. Thank you sooooo much). Experiment 1 shows that some English speakers can produce beyond-binary durational distinctions, and Experiment 2 shows English speakers do not perceive these distinctions. These findings support the view that perception is behind the preference for binary lexical duration contrasts, while eliminating the articulation-based explanation


English; Emphatic lengthening

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Copyright (c) 2016 Aaron Braver, Natalie Dresher, Shigeto Kawahara

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