Phonetics in Phonology

Maartje Schreuder (M.J.Schreuder@let.rug.nl) & Dicky Gilbers (D.G.Gilbers@let.rug.nl)

In our presentation we investigate the role of phonetics in phonological research. We will show that phonetics is a crucial instrument for the description and explanation of some processes. The widely attested process of liquid-glide substitutions for instance, cannot be accounted for adequately as a minimal deviation from the target based on articulatorily defined features. It can only be described as a minimal change from the target based on the acoustic characteristics of the sounds. Obviously, phonology needs phonetic information to explain a phonological process of this kind.

However, not all phonological processes have a phonetic explanation. The Dutch process of schwa insertion is an example of a process that takes place before the phonetic level of actual realization of segments, i.e. on the abstract phonological level. The context in which schwa insertion takes place is, for example, between a liquid and a non-homorganic obstruent with regard to place of articulation. Now Dutch has (at least) two allophones of /r/: uvular [R] and coronal [r]. The process does not take place between /r/ and a coronal obstruent. Interestingly, Dutch speakers with a uvular [R] do not show schwa insertion between their [R] and non-homorganic coronal /s/ or /t/, which suggests that [R] is represented underlyingly as /r/ in the phonological system.

Another role of phonetics in phonology is the search for empirical confirmation of auditorily perceived processes and phonological hypotheses. In an experiment we found that sometimes the influence of a higher speech rate leads to adjustment of the rhythmic structure of words. We tried to confirm these findings by measuring several acoustic correlates of stress and timing, but the acoustic correlate of secondary stress, which people certainly do perceive, still remains a mystery.


CLCG Klankleer Group Workshop 'On the Boundaries of Phonology and Phonetics'