University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


This paper reports on an investigation of voicing and aspiration of stops in Southern American English (SAE) and discusses theoretical implications of the findings for the features of contrast in SAE.

Languages that have a two-way stop contrast generally fall into two categories: voicing languages (Russian, Dutch, Spanish) and aspirating languages (German, English, Mandarin). Many phonologists have suggested that aspirating languages have a [spread glottis] ([sg]) contrast and true voice languages a [voice] contrast (Beckman, Jessen, & Ringen 2013, Iverson & Salmons 1995). Surface phonetic cues are intrinsically connected to these phonological features; prevoicing or aspiration in certain environments implicates the phonological feature [voice] or [sg] (Beckman et al. 2013).

In utterance-initial position, voicing languages have negative VOT lenis and short-lag VOT fortis stops, while aspirating languages have short-lag lenis and long-lag fortis stops. However, Helgason and Ringen (2008) show that the two-way contrast in Swedish has phonetic cues of both [sg] and [voice]; they propose that the phonological contrast in Swedish stops is between [voice] and [sg]. Rate effects support this proposal (Beckman, Helgason, McMurray, & Ringen 2011).

This study analyzed utterance-initial lenis and fortis stops across all places of articulation from 13 speakers of Southern American English (SAE). Overall, 77.8% of the 951 lenis stop tokens for SAE speakers were prevoiced in utterance-initial position, with a mean VOT of -92.0 ms for lenis stops; this far exceeds data found in Lisker and Abramson (1964) and is comparable to that found for Dutch, a [voice] contrast language. Additionally, the SAE speakers had fortis VOT values comparable to aspirating languages such as NAE (Northern American English). If prevoicing implicates phonological [voice] and aspiration implicates [spread glottis], then SAE appears to have both, as is argued for Swedish in Helgason and Ringen (2008).



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