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Informal speech processes can be categorical in nature, even if they affect many different words

Hanique, I., Ernestus, M., & Schuppler, B. (2013). Informal speech processes can be categorical in nature, even if they affect many different words. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 133, 1644-1655. doi:10.1121/1.4790352.
This paper investigates the nature of reduction phenomena in informal speech. It addresses the question whether reduction processes that affect many word types, but only if they occur in connected informal speech, may be categorical in nature. The focus is on reduction of schwa in the prefixes and on word-final /t/ in Dutch past participles. More than 2000 tokens of past participles from the Ernestus Corpus of Spontaneous Dutch and the Spoken Dutch Corpus (both from the interview and read speech component) were transcribed automatically. The results demonstrate that the presence and duration of /t/ are affected by approximately the same phonetic variables, indicating that the absence of /t/ is the extreme result of shortening, and thus results from a gradient reduction process. Also for schwa, the data show that mainly phonetic variables influence its reduction, but its presence is affected by different and more variables than its duration, which suggests that the absence of schwa may result from gradient as well as categorical processes. These conclusions are supported by the distributions of the segments’ durations. These findings provide evidence that reduction phenomena which affect many words in informal conversations may also result from categorical reduction processes.
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