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Articulation and acoustics of some typologically unusual vowels

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020
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12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Jeff Mielke

Differences between vowel sounds are often described in terms of the frequencies of the first two formants, which roughly correspond to tongue height and the combined effects of tongue backness and lip rounding. I report acoustic and articulatory studies of two endangered languages with typologically unusual vowel systems that require additional dimensions of vowel quality. Bora, a Witotoan language spoken in Peru and Colombia, has been described as having a three-way backness contrast between unrounded high vowels /i ¿ ¿/. An audio-video investigation of Bora vowels reveals that while none of these vowels are produced with lip rounding, the vowel described as /¿/ is actually a front vowel with extreme lingual-dental contact. This appears to be a previously unreported vowel type. Kalasha, a Dardic language spoken in Pakistan, has been described as having 20 vowel phonemes: plain /i e a o u/, nasalized /i¿ e¿ a¿ o¿ u¿/, retroflex /i¿ e¿ a¿ o¿ u¿/, and retroflex nasalized /i¿¿ e¿¿ a¿¿ o¿¿ u¿¿/. An ultrasound study of Kalasha vowels shows that the vowels described as retroflex are produced not with retroflexion but with tongue bunching and tongue root retraction, which are integrated in non-obvious ways with the familiar dimensions of tongue height and backness. I discuss implications of the Bora and Kalasha data for models of vowel features.
This event is part of the Cognitive, Auditory, and Neural Bases of Language & Speech (CANBLS) group.

Contact: Tyler Lee