Previous research has suggested that a greater degree of social indexing of gender, race, and regional background is produced in linguistic contexts that promote phonetic reduction. The goal of the current study was to explore this hypothesis through an examination of the realization of an ongoing sound change in the American Midwest—/u/ fronting—as a function of four linguistic factors that contribute to phonetic reduction: lexical frequency, phonological neighborhood density, discourse mention, and speaking style. The results revealed minimal effects of the linguistic factors on the degree of /u/ fronting among talkers with greater overall advancement in the /u/ fronting change-in-progress, suggesting that the process of /u/ fronting is nearing completion among some American Midwesterners. However, the results also revealed more /u/ fronting in plain laboratory speech than in clear laboratory speech and in low-frequency, low-density words than in low-frequency, high-density words among talkers with lower overall advancement in the /u/ fronting change-in-progress. The directions of these effects are consistent with the hypothesis that social indexing is greater in reduction-promoting contexts. Further, the relative sizes of these effects suggest that speaking style contributes more to variability in social indexing than lexical properties, such as frequency and neighborhood density.
This study examines the rate and quality of L+H* contours in five varieties of American English. Reading passage data from 30 female participants (10 Jewish English (JE), 10 African American English (AAE) and 10 Appalachian English (ApEng)) was coded using MAE-ToBI conventions. Mixed- effects modeling was used to compare the number of instances of L+H* and H*/!H* contours, and peak contour height, slope, and peak offset of the L+H* contours. ApEng speakers use the highest number of L+H* contours in their speech. JE speakers use fewer L+H* contours than ApEng speakers, but more than the AAE speakers. The phonetic implementation of the contour was also examined. ApE and JE speakers have higher peaks, wider rise spans, and steeper rises than AAE speakers, in parallel with the results for rate of use of L+H*. When compared to data for white speakers of Southern and Midland English (data from  ), the three groups of interest all use a higher proportion of L+H* contours. These results represent an important theoretical contribution by demonstrating that suprasegmental features are ethnolinguistically and regionally conditioned by rate of use and different realizations, in a manner similar to what has been previously observed for segmental phonological features.
A wide range of reduction phenomena have been described in the literature as predictability effects, in which more predictable units (i.e. words, syllables, vowels) are reduced in duration or other acoustic dimensions relative to less predictable units. The goal of the current study was to critically evaluate these predictability effects on vowel duration in read speech to explore the extent to which they reflect a single underlying phenomenon. The results revealed shorter vowel duration for words with high phonotactic probability, for high-frequency words (in clear speech only), and for words in plain lab speech relative to clear speech. However, the results also revealed qualitatively different effects of three measures of contextual probability (cloze probability, written trigram probability, and spoken trigram probability). Greater spoken trigram probability predicted longer vowel duration, contrary to expectations, and this effect was limited to high-frequency words in first mentions and in plain speech. Cloze probability and written trigram probability exhibited even more complex interactions with other predictability measures. These results provide evidence for fundamental differences in these measures of predictability, suggesting that a more nuanced perspective on predictability effects and the mechanisms underlying them is necessary to account for the complexity of the empirical data.
This study explored the prosodic realization of focus in four typologically unrelated languages: American English, Paraguayan Guaraní, Moroccan Arabic, and K’iche’. American English and Paraguayan Guaraní mark prosodic prominence culminatively on the head of the prosodic unit, whereas Moroccan Arabic and K’iche’ mark prosodic prominence demarcatively on the right edge of the prosodic unit. To allow for cross-linguistic comparisons, the same interactive task was used for all four languages in their respective countries. Utterances were elicited in which a color-denoting adjective, a shape-denoting noun, or the noun phrase consisting of the adjective and the noun was focused. Data from each language were annotated phonologically using an autosegmental-metrical approach and analyzed acoustically. The results suggest that the prosodic realization of focus is partially orthogonal to the distinction between head- prominence and head/edge-prominence languages, and may be due to differences in macro-rhythm. American English and Paraguayan Guaraní, the head-prominence languages, share deaccenting as a means for marking non-focused expressions, but only English uses pitch accent type to mark focused elements. Moroccan Arabic, a head/edge-prominence language, uses phrasing and duration cues to focus, but K’iche’, also a head/edge-prominence language, does not. In addition, American English shares phrasing cues, and both American English and Paraguayan Guaraní share duration cues with Moroccan Arabic, despite their structural prosodic differences.
This study explored the effect of contextual predictability on the prosodic realisation of focussed expressions in American English and Paraguayan Guarani. Pairs of native speakers played an interactive game to elicit utterances that varied in the location of focus in the NP and whether this location was predictable from visual context. The English results confirmed that focussed expressions had more rising pitch accents, longer durations, and higher f0 than non-focussed expressions. Differences between focussed and non-focussed expressions were enhanced when the location of focus was not predictable from context. The Guarani results confirmed that focussed expressions had distinctive pitch accent and duration patterns relative to non-focussed expressions. Overall prosodic prominence was enhanced when the location of focus was not predictable from context. These results, which are discussed within information-based theories of language production, suggest contextual predictability affects the prosodic realisation of focus, and that this predictability dependence varies across languages.