Ling 504 phonological analysis
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Ling 504 Phonological Analysis. Experimental Phonology By Radi Abouelhassan. Why Experiments?. Why Experiments. Doubts about beliefs Hope to do something to counteract the suspected sources of error. Experimentation in Phonology.

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Ling 504 Phonological Analysis

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Ling 504 phonological analysis

Ling 504 Phonological Analysis

Experimental Phonology


Radi Abouelhassan

Why experiments

Why Experiments?

Why experiments1

Why Experiments

  • Doubts about beliefs

  • Hope to do something to counteract the suspected sources of error

Experimentation in phonology

Experimentation in Phonology

  • “No claims in phonology are above doubts: the existence of phoneme, syllable, or the feature [voice]” (Ohala 1996)

  • “ experimental phonology or experimental anything should be viewed as a spiral process: make a claim; test the claim; revise (or abandon) the claim; test the revised claim, etc.” (Ohala 1996)

  • “tests may only be made of claims which involve things that ultimately, even if indirectly, have observable consequences” (Ohala 1996)

Phonetics and phonology

Phonetics and phonology

  • Stage of separation:“ there has been an uneasiness about integrating phonetics into phonological studies, because a belief the phonetic module belongs to performance and the phonological module belongs to competence.” (Kawahara )

  • Universal phonetics mechanisms?

  • Integrative stance: “Many phonological patterns can be explained in terms of articulatory and perceptual factors, and therefore purely phonological explanations without considering phonetic substances can be arbitrary, circular, and post hoc. (Kawahara)

  • The Current Situation

  • Separate territories defined

  • “Laboratory Phonology” as a general approach:

    “we believe that time has come to undo the assumed division of labor between philologists and other speech scientists” (Kingston 1990)

Results of integration

Results of Integration

  • Many experiments explained phonological observations and many phonological observation motivated experiments

  • “ The subsequent of establishment of the Laboratory conference and book series … has clearly played a major role in the promoting the use of experimental techniques in the study of phonological knowledge and processing (Coetzee et al 2009)

  • The use of mathematical formulism and computational methods has increased.

Sample domains of phonological experiments

Sample Domains of phonological experiments

  • Assessment of the distinctive features of speech

  • If phonetically different sounds can be psychologically the same

  • Morpheme structure constraints

  • Phonological change

  • Lexical representation

Experimental assessment of the distinctive features of speech

Experimental assessment of the Distinctive Features of Speech

  • voice onset time(commonly abbreviated VOT):

    is a feature of the production of stop consonants. It is defined as the length of time that passes between when a stop consonant is released and when voicing, the vibration of the vocal cords , begins.

  • False Knowledge based on the perceptual domain

  • What is the distinctive feature between the following pairs?

  • a) paid vs. bade

  • B) tie vs. die

  • c) cool vs. ghoul

    P, t, k show substantial delay in VOT while b, d, g has a short VOT

Ling 504 phonological analysis

  • Want some examples?

Ling 504 phonological analysis

Phonetic Explanation for Phonological Universals: the Case of Distinctive vowel Nasalization (Kawasaki 1986)

  • Key Terms:

  • Diachronic Universal: sound changes across time

  • Synchronic Universals: sounds changes at a time; allophonic variations

  • Synchronic might lead diachronic change and vice versa

Findings about vowel nasalization across languages

Findings about vowel nasalization across languages

  • Vowels are often nondistinvtively nasalized in the environment of nasal consonants, e.g. English, Amerenian and others.

  • Synchronically, the sequence of a vowel and a nasal consonant often has a free allophonic variant, a simple nasalized vowel or a nasalized vowel plus a very weak residual nasal consonant, e.g. Bengali

  • Diachronically, distinctive nasal vowels often result from the stage mentioned in 2, followed by the complete loss of the conditioning nasal consonant, e.g, Middle Chinese.

  • For distinctive nasal vowel the maximum contrast is syllable final after an oral consonant whereas the minimal contrast is next to nasal consonant.

  • Partial or complete denasalization of nasal consonants adjacent to oral vowels often happens in languages in which the oral-nasal vowel opposition has been established in the enviornment of nasal as well as oral consonants. E.g. nasal consonants are realized as partially denasalized near oral vowels in Apinaye.

Hypothesis and consequence

Hypothesis and Consequence

  • Listeners’ expectations in perceiving speech play a crucial role in giving rise to sound patterns.

  • A testable consequence is that “nasalization on a vowel should be perceptually more evident as adjacent nasal consonants become attenuated, for it is the the presence of the nasal consonant that permits the listeners to reconstruct the orality of a vowel and its absence or weakness which permits the nasalization to be heard”

Perceptual experiment to test hypothesis

Perceptual Experiment to test hypothesis

  • Three syllables /mim/, /mum/, /mɑm/ digitally recorded

  • The amplitude of nasal consonants attenuated in five steps 0 dB, -12-dB, -24 dB, -36 dB, - ɤdB.

  • Five token for each conditions for the three syllables type

  • Participants were asked to identify if there was a nasal consonants in the stimuli

  • Then they were asked to identify the degree of the nasality of the vowels.



  • Nasal consonants were received reliably until the amplitude was reduced to -24 dB or the original.

  • At -36 dB attenuation Ss responded randomly.

  • When the nasals were removed completely, Ss indicated that they heard no nasals.

Results cont

Results (Cont.)

  • In general, the stimuli containing the vowel /i/ were perceived as less nasal than others.

  • Ss 1 through 5 perceived less nasalization on vowels when the amplitude of nasal consonants was decreased. (fallers)

  • Ss 6- 11 showed the opposite. (risers)

  • The attenuation impacted students perceptions significantly but in different ways.



  • Coetzee, A. et al (2009). Introduction: phonological models and experimental data. Phonology, 26, pp 1-8.

  • Disner, S. (1986) On Describing Vowel Quality. In John Ohala et al (Eds). Experimental Phonology, (pp. 69- 79). American Press: NY

  • Kawahara, Shigeto (2011) Experimental approaches in theoretical phonology. In. M. van Oostendorp, C. Ewen, E. Hume, and K. Rice (eds.) The Blackwell Companion to Phonology, (pp. 2283-2303). Wiley- Blackwell.

  • Kawasaki, H. (1986). Phonetic Explanation for Phonological Universals: the Case of Distinctive vowel Nasalization. In John Ohala et al (Eds). Experimental Phonology, (pp. 81- 102). American Press: NY.

  • Ohala, J. (1996). Experimental Phonology. In John, A. Goldsmith (Ed.) The Handbook of Phonological Theory, (pp. 713- 724). Blackwell, NY.

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