LINGUIST List 14.762

Mon Mar 17 2003

Qs: Syllable Perception, Paralinguistic Clicks

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  1. Anke Boewe, syllable number as psycholinguistic variable
  2. Mark Jones, Paralinguistic clicks

Message 1: syllable number as psycholinguistic variable

Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 04:34:35 +0000
From: Anke Boewe <>
Subject: syllable number as psycholinguistic variable

Dear all,

I've got a question with regards to word length in syllables as a
psycholinguistic variable. When 2 words in a psycholinguistic study or
a speech therapist's session are said to have the same number of
syllables, what does this actually mean? Is the property that they
have in common a physical, i.e. a phonetic one, for example that
they'd take the same amount of time to pronounce? Or is it something
in a person's internal representation of the words which is the same?
The language in question is Italian, and the particular subgroup of
words which I'm puzzled about are those which contain a sequence of 2
or more vowels. There are syllabification rules by which 2 vowels will
generally go into separate syllables (e.g. museo museum syllabifies as '' this vowel combination is called hiatus), unless one or
both of the 2 vowels is a u or an i (e.g. continuare to continue
syllabifies as '' this combination is called
diphtong). There's other rules covering accented vowels and
combinations of 3 vowels. I'm not sure of what sort these rules are,
orthographic or phonological or psychological, in any case, native
speakers didn't agree on the number of syllables of words containing
such vowel sequences when I gave them a list of these words (to
syllabify from an intuitive point of view), and were also unsure of
their own answers. (Some examples of uncertain words are: amicizia,
ebraico, riapre, spiava, restituire, zione, influenza, paurosa,
proibisce, violette, coinvolta, aree, fluido, inviļæ½). So, word length
in syllables is not necessarily always an independent psychologically
real variable, but it seems that neither is it always physically real:
fluente (2 syllables), for example, doesnt take less time to produce
than poeta (3 syllables). Is word length in number of syllables as a
psycholinguistic variable meaningful only in certain phonological
contexts? Am I missing something? The reason why I'm asking about this
is that I'm annotating a database of Italian words with certain
linguistic variables so that it can be used as a tool for the
generation of word lists in speech therapy and psycholinguistic
research. So of course I want to be clear on what I'm doing. Any
thoughts and advice are greatly appreciated, and I'll send a summary.

Thank you very much,
Anke Boewe
IRCCS Santa Lucia, Rome, Italy 

Subject-Language: Italian; Code: ITN 
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Message 2: Paralinguistic clicks

Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 08:13:20 +0000
From: Mark Jones <>
Subject: Paralinguistic clicks

Dear Linguists,

it's common in the phonetic literature (e.g. John Laver (1994)
''Principles of Phonetics'': 175, Cambridge University Press) to see
click consonants (velaric ingressive sounds) described as rare as
contrastive units, but common paralinguistically. I'm aware of their
phonological distribution, but I don't know of any detailed survey of
paralinguistic usage.

In (British) English we have two paralinguistic clicks: the dental
click ([/]), written as either ''tut'' or ''tsk'', and the lateral
click ([//]), which as far as I'm aware has no written form. The
dental ''tut/tsk'' usually occurs doubled, i.e. as ''tut tut'' or
''tsk tsk'' to indicate disapproval. The lateral click (also doubled)
is the sound made to encourage a horse to move. There is, of course,
also the bilabial click ([0]) which is a kiss. I don't include this as
paralinguistic, because it is what it symbolises.

I'd like to conduct as wide a cross-linguistic survey as possible to

1) whether clicks are widely used paralinguistically;
2) which clicks are used paralinguistically;
3) what the click sounds symbolise;
4) whether 'doubling' of the click is common, e.g. as in English ''tut

I'd also like to hear about writing conventions for the paralinguistic
clicks. Does English have a preference for ''tut'' or ''tsk'', does
[//] have a written form? What do other languages do?

I'd be very grateful if list users would contribute any information on
their native or near-native languages to me at the following mail
address (set up to keep my university mail volume down):

I'll post a summary, but I'd like to give users a few weeks to respond.

Many thanks!

Mark Jones
Department of Linguistics
University of Cambridge 
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