LINGUIST List 14.2798

Thu Oct 16 2003

Diss: Phonology/Phonetics: White: 'English...'

Editor for this issue: Takako Matsui <>


  1. Laurence.White, English Speech Timing

Message 1: English Speech Timing

Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 07:27:57 +0000
From: Laurence.White <>
Subject: English Speech Timing

Institution: University of Edinburgh
Program: Theoretical and Applied Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2002

Author: Laurence White 

Dissertation Title: English Speech Timing: A Domain and Locus Approach

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field: Phonology, Phonetics 

Subject Language: English (code: ENG)

Dissertation Director 1: Alice Turk
Dissertation Director 2: Steve Isard

Dissertation Abstract: 

This dissertation presents a descriptive framework for suprasyllabic
processes in speech timing, and describes speech production
experiments that investigate durational processes at the word level
and the utterance level and the interaction of these processes with
the effects of pitch accent. The experimental evidence suggests a
model of a speech timing comprised of localised effects, in contrast
with the diffuse processes typical of accounts that focus on the
rhythmic organisation of speech.

Within the descriptive framework, two types of process are associated
with the domain, a familiar concept in prosodic phonology. Domain-edge
processes lengthen segments near the initial and final boundaries of
constituents: for example, word-initial lengthening and
utterance-final lengthening. Domain-span processes are hypothesised to
arise from an inverse relationship between the size of some
constituent and the duration of some subconstituent: for example,
word-span compression (polysyllabic shortening) and utterance-span

The particular segments affected by each domain-edge or domain-span
process are termed the 'locus': for example, the word is a
domain of initial lengthening and the locus is the word-initial
syllable onset. It is hypothesised that each process is associated
with a locus defined in phonological terms, and that processes may be
distinguished by their distinct loci. The experimental work examines
the loci of durational effects, indicating support for domain-edge
processes - but not domain-span processes - at the word level and the
utterance level.

Utterance-final lengthening is found to be progressive, affecting
syllable codas and the final syllable nucleus within a word-rhyme
locus. These results contradict the idea of a gradual deceleration in
speech at the end of utterances. Utterance-initial shortening suggests
that where the boundary cue is the termination of the preceding
silence there is an absence of the hierarchical lengthening
demonstrated word-initially and phrase-initially. There is no evidence
of an utterance-span effect.

Word-initial lengthening is supported, with a syllable onset locus, as
indicated by previous results. Word-initial lengthening is found not
to interact with accentual lengthening, and may be attenuated in

Polysyllabic shortening, a domain-span process at the word level, is
not supported. The previously-observed effect arises from variation in
the distribution of accentual lengthening between monosyllables,
disyllables and trisyllables. The locus of accentual lengthening is
shown to be the word, with the greatest lengthening tending to be
found at word edges. Because total lengthening is no greater in
polysyllables than in monosyllables, the effect on particular
subconstituents is attenuated when the word contains more syllables.

Word-rhyme compression is proposed to account for variation in nucleus
duration according to the number of subsequent syllables in accented
and unaccented words. Because it is the only domain-span process
supported, it may be theoretically preferable to interpret word-rhyme
compression as a domain-edge effect at the word level, similar to
utterance-final lengthening but affecting nuclei rather than codas
within the locus.
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