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Phonetic variability of the Greek rhotic sound. Table 1: General variability Table 2: Tap constriction variability. (a) (b) (c) VOWEL FRAGMENT. Mary Baltazani University of Ioannina, Greece <>.

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Phonetic variability of the Greek rhotic sound

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Phonetic variability of the Greek rhotic sound

Table 1: General variability Table 2: Tap constriction variability

(a) (b) (c)


Mary Baltazani

University of Ioannina, Greece <>

Results: Experiment 1 [ VrV ]


  • 2.1 What factors influence the appearance of the epenthetic V fragment?
  • An effect of the position of C was found (Cr-rC):
    • All Cr clusters are realized with epenthetic V fragment
    • Most, but not all, rC clusters have an epenthetic V fragment (Table 4)
  • Rhotics exhibit considerable phonetic

varietycross-linguistically(Lindau 1985,

Inouye 1995, Ladefoged and Maddieson 1996).

  • Different prosodic and phonetic contexts

have been found to affect their realization

across languages (cf Recasens 1991,

Recasens et al 1993).

  • The situation for Greek rhotics
  • There is no exclusive acoustic study on the

characteristics of the Greek rhotic. General

studies on Greek consonants describe the

rhotic in passing as a tap (Arvaniti 1999,

Nicolaidis 2001). However, no details of its

phonetic characteristics are provided.

    • We still ignore its duration and spectral

characteristics in different contexts. As a

result, the phonetic variability of this

segment is unknown.

  • This paper reports on a systematic

acoustic study of the Greek [r].

1. Variability in rhotic quality

In intervocalic position, [r] in Greek is a tappredominantly. However, a lot of variability in production was found (Fig 1):

Figure 1. Three repetitions of the same word, by the same speaker show the variability in [r] production: (a) complete closure (b) partial closure (c) weak, glide-like constriction

Table 4: Makeup of rC taps

(a) (b) (c)

The percentages of different types of rhotic produced are shown in Table 1. Table 2 shows further variability in the amount of constriction for the tap.

  • The quality of the vowel or consonant adjacent to the tap did not have any effect on its realization.
  • No speaker effect was found


Greek speakers are not aware of the presence of the epenthetic V fragment. Why is it there?

It has been suggested in the literature that the epenthetic V fragment serves the purpose of making the tap perceptible when it is found next to an obstruent. This of course is a matter for empirical verification through a perception experiment. However there are two considerations which lessen the likelihood for the perceptibility explanation: on the one hand, the existence of tokens in Greek lacking a V fragment which are perfectly perceptible; on the other hand, the existence of languages without such epenthetic vowels.

The obvious alternative (complementary?) explanation for the existence of these fragments is articulatory ease and the universal dispreference against clusters. One experimental finding gives some weight to this explanation: Cr clusters in this experiment were word initial (and homo-syllabic) and they always had a V fragment, while rC clusterswere word medial (and hetero-syllabic) and approximately 20% of these tokens lacked such a fragment. The effect of these prosodic parameters on the realization of [r] in clusters is left open.

  • 2. What factors influence rhotic quality?
  • The gradience in tap production correlated with duration: Short duration correlated with weakening in constriction.
  • Stress, prosodic position and flanking vowel had no effects on the nature of rhotic that was produced.
  • A speaker effect was found: males showed greater percentages of approximant production than female speakers.


  • Explore
  • whether the Greek rhotic displays variability in production
  • factors affecting its phonetic realization.
  • The parameters examined
  • the phonetic environment (V or C context)
  • the prosodic environment (word initial, word medial, stress).
  • Two experiments
  • In Experiment 1, the rhotic is investigated in intervocalic position (VrV), to determine whether any other types of rhotic are attested.
  • In Experiment 2, the phonetic context is Cr and rC clusters to determine the influence of phonetic context.

Results: Experiment 2, Cr and rC clusters

  • Rhotic quality

In consonant clusters, just like in intervocalic position, Greek most frequentlyuses a tap. Approximants in C-clusters are fewer than in intervocalic position.

2.Characteristics of the tap in C-clusters:

  • An epenthetic, short vowel fragment was foundbetween the tap and the stop,similar to that reported for Spanish (Navarro Tomás 1918,Quillis 1993, Bradley and Schmeiser 2003).
  • The formant structure of thisvowel fragment is

similar to the vowel adjacent to the tap (Fig 2).

  • Its duration is very short, on average 30ms.

Table 3: General variability

in clusters


In summary, the detailed phonetic examination of the Greek rhotic sound has revealed that it is a tap. The single contact of this tap is realized with various degrees of constriction along a contunuum—from complete closure to a glide-like approximation.

The phonetic implementation of this segment is influenced by pressures in the domains of time, perceptibility, and articulation. Cross-linguistically, such processes have led to reanalysis and lexicalization of the epenthetic vowel.

Examination of the acoustic details of segments like the Greek tap are important for the better understanding of processes that shape the phonological systems of languages.


Experiment 1: Intervocalic position (VrV)

  • 15 words embedded in I leksi ___ ine apli ‘The word ___ is simple’. 6 speakers, 6 repetitions each
  • Varying parameters:
    • vowel quality [a, e, i, o, u], same vowel flanking [r]
    • prosodic position of r (word-initial or medial)
    • stress (in stressed or unstressed syllable).

Experiment 2: Consonant clusters Cr and rC

  • 36 words embedded in O oros ___ silavizete efkola ‘The term ___ is easily syllabified’. 5 speakers, 3 repetitions
  • Varying parameters:
    • segmental makeup of C (p, t, k, b, d, g)
    • quality of flanking vowels (i, a, u)
    • position of C (Cr or rC)

Figure 2. These spectrograms

illustrate the V

fragments (shown with an arrow) in (a)

[kru], (b) [kri], (c) [kra]


I would like to thank the University of Ioannina first-year linguistics students of 2004-2005 for their help.