Variation in Fricative Production in Malagasy Dialects

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The development of phonological tone has been linked in many languages to consonant voice quality contrasts that impart pitch differences to preceding or following vowels. In particular, modal voicing on a syllable-initial consonant has been shown to correlate with low pitch on a following vowel in both tone and non-tone languages (Hombert et al. 1979). In the Austronesian language Malagasy, a strong relationship between consonant voicing and vowel pitch has been observed in the literature; previous studies state, however, that Malagasy does not have phonological tone. In contrast with these previous descriptions, the results presented in this paper from a production study of homorganic fricative pairs in several different dialects of Malagasy suggest that in certain dialects in the center of the country, in and around the capital city, pitch has replaced modal voicing as the primary phonetic cue to fricative voicing category. Based on word list data from 11 Malagasy speakers, this study finds that the homorganic fricatives of speakers of the Central dialects are best classified based on the pitch of the following vowel, while those of speakers of non-Central dialects are best classified based on the duration of modal voicing on the fricative. Secondary phonetic cues typically associated with a voicing distinction (i.e., duration, frication intensity) appear to be undergoing neutralization among the Central speakers.

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