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Hierarchical contrast: Whistled languages as extreme vowel reduction

 Time: Wednesday, September 12, 2012, 05:30pm - 07:00pm

 Place: Ballantine Hall 242

Andrew Nevins (University College London)

I will discuss the proposal that whistled languages have their own phonology, and as such involve a mechanism of choices based on formal considerations. Taking as a model case the difference between vowel reduction in Bulgarian and Russian, where the same 5-vowel system is reduced to a 3-vowel system - although a different set of resulting choices are made (namely, /o/ raises in Bulgarian but lowers in Russian), I will adopt the hypothesis that languages represent contrast hierarchically (following Dresher 2009, who formalizes what countless precursors simply leave the idea implicit in analyses). Vowel reduction thereby involves pruning the lowest (or least important) bifurcation in the tree. The analysis then generalizes to the comparison between the whistled phonology of Greek (as practiced on the island of Evia) and the whistled phonology of Spanish (as practiced on the island of La Gomera). Both systems "reduce" 5 vowels, but do so in not just unstressed syllables, but all syllables, due to a reduced channel. In other words, whistled languages present drastic forms of vowel reduction, in which hierarchical contrast decides which neutralizations are made. Importantly, the representation of contrast in whistled languages seems to require the notion of acoustic, rather than articulatory features, and the notion of a 'center of gravity' in formant space, thereby involving a certain attempt towards iconicity with the spoken signal.

In category: Phonetics and phonology


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