Prosodically conditioned strengthening and vowel-to-vowel coarticulation in English

The goal of this study is to examine how the degree of vowel-to-vowel coarticulation varies as a function of prosodic factors such as nuclear-pitch accent (accented vs. unaccented), level of prosodic boundary (Prosodic Word vs. Intermediate Phrase vs. Intonational Phrase), and position-in-prosodic-domain (initial vs. final). It is hypothesized that vowels in prosodically stronger locations (e.g., in accented syllables and at a higher prosodic boundary) are not only coarticulated less with their neighboring vowels, but they also exert a stronger influence on their neighbors. Measurements of tongue position for English /a i/ over time were obtained with Carsten’s electromagnetic articulography. Results showed that vowels in prosodically stronger locations are coarticulated less with neighboring vowels, but do not exert a stronger influence on the articulation of neighboring vowels. An examination of the relationship between coarticulation and duration revealed that (a) accent-induced coarticulatory variation cannot be attributed to a duration factor and (b) some of the data with respect to boundary effects may be accounted for by the duration factor. This suggests that to the extent that prosodically conditioned coarticulatory variation is duration-independent, there is no absolute causal relationship from duration to coarticulation. It is proposed that prosodically conditioned V-to-V coarticulatory reduction is another type of strengthening that occurs in prosodically strong locations. The prosodically driven coarticulatory patterning is taken to be part of the phonetic signatures of the hierarchically nested structure of prosody.
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