English vowels: Their surface phonology and phonetic implementation in vernacular dialects

Thomas Clark Veatch, University of Pennsylvania


Does phonetic grammar exist? The system of phonetic implementation relates surface phonological structures to measurable phonetic forms. These aspects of the linguistic system is studied theoretically and in the vernacular speech of four related dialects. It is seen whether this phonetic system may have linguistic (i.e., language-particular) aspects, by investigating dialects which are quite different in phonetic details. A chapter explains the mapping from articulatory configurations to formant structure, and derives the basic facts of acoustic phonetics. Then the surface phonological structure of a useful fictional dialect, "Reference American," is explored, combining phonological underspecification, autosegmental theory, and privative feature theory in a formal, symmetrical, and simple representation of its surface vowel inventory. After further discussions of theoretical background and methods of measurement and phonological classification, four dialects are studied, including Jamaican Creole, Chicago White English, Alabama English, and Los Angeles Chicano English. These dialect studies investigate how vowels are structured, produced, reduced, and coarticulated in English dialects by describing surface regularities of phonetic performance. The inventory and surface phonological structure of the dialect is described. Large acoustical studies of vowel phonetics in unrestricted vernacular speech (taken from sociolinguistic interviews) are conducted (7 speakers, 16000+ measurements). I describe the average formant frequency patterns corresponding to each phonological category, in one case (Jamaican) by giving a formal system of rules for deriving the acoustical patterns from the phonological structures. General phonetic rules are applied in language-particular ways to generate the observed acoustical distributions. Vowel reduction as a function of phrasal stress is investigated, finding in most cases that these complexes of phonetic shifts are accurately described as shifts in the direction of a "reduction target". The reduction target appears to be different in different dialects. In the final chapter, the effects of consonants on preceding vowel nuclei are shown to have quite different patterns in different dialects, which in some cases may be attributed to differences of phonological structure, but in others are to be understood as dialect-specific (therefore, linguistic) phonetic implementation patterns. Surface phonology and observable acoustic patterns are used as a window into the partly linguistic system of phonetic interpretation.

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Recommended Citation

Veatch, Thomas Clark, "English vowels: Their surface phonology and phonetic implementation in vernacular dialects" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9200398.