LINGUIST List 3.839

Tue 27 Oct 1992

Disc: Final Devoicing

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  1. John S. Coleman, 3.783 Phoneticians

Message 1: 3.783 Phoneticians

Date: Wed, 21 Oct 92 12:06:52 ED3.783 Phoneticians
From: John S. Coleman <>
Subject: 3.783 Phoneticians

On Oct. 5th Alexis Manaster-Ramer submitted the following to
the LINGUIST list:
> There is the entire literature on incomplete
> neutralization, which claims that in Russian, Polish, German,
> and Catalan (which every phonetician has always heard as having
> absolute total exceptionless final devoicing), there are small
> but systematic measurable differences in the way underlying voiced
> and voiceless finals are realized (differences realized in the
> preceding vowel usually, as I understand).
to which I responded with a message saying that the above statement
> is incorrect: not EVERY phonetician has ALWAYS heard these
> cases as having totally exceptionless final devoicing.

Alexis reiterated his point of view in a message to me:

> Some of the
> world's finest phoneticians have certainly heard Polish, Russian,
> and German. As far as I know, all of them have always reported
> that there is no distinction of ANY kind in pairs like Polish
> grat and grad. Many of them even claim that INSTRUMENTALLY
> there is no difference, either.

Alexis's claim is that the incomplete neutralization claim
was not discovered by impressionistic listening, and that the
durational and other differences which cue the distinction
between word-final devoiced final obstruents and lexically
voiceless obstruents is not audible by trained phoneticians
or native speaker-hearers.

I would like to add the following to the references which John
Local recently posted in refutation of Alexis's claim:

Malmberg, B. (1963) Phonetics. Dover Publications, New York.

p. 52n. "in the latter languages, the voiced types are always
fully voiced, while in English, German, etc., they are often
only half-voiced or even voiceless without becoming fortes. So
a solid distinction between the series is retained."

Port, R. F. and M. L. O'Dell (1985) Neutralization of syllable-final
	voicing in German. J. Phonetics 13, 455-471.

p. 455: "German is well known for its neutralization of the
voicing contrast in word-final obstruents. However, acoustic
analysis of ten pairs of German words produced by ten native
speakers revealed that the distributions of acoustic parameters
for underlying voiced and voiceless stops are significantly

Chen, M. (1970) Vowel Length Variation as a Function of the
	Voicing of the Consonant Environment. Phonetica 22: 129-159.

p. 135n. "in Russian voiced obstruents are devoiced in word-final
positions, ... it is interesting to note that the primary feature
of voicing of the final stops in the underlying represent notions
of /gleb/, etc. remains under the guise of the secondary feature of
lengthening of the preceding vowel, even though voicing itself is
absent phonetically."

Dinnsen, D. A. and J. Charles-Luce (1984) Phonological neutralization,
	phonetic implementation and individual differences. J. Phonetics
	12, 49-60.

p. 49 "It was found, contrary to all phonological accounts, that
individual speakers vary in their treatment of word-final devoicing
such that there is no neutralization for, at least, some speakers."

Alexis further says:
> However, I do not see any references to studies
> that show that phoneticians (or ANY human beings) can hear the
> distinctions which have been claimed to show up in instrumental
> studies of, for example, Polish, Russian, German, and Catalan
> final underlyingly voiced vs. underlyingly voiceless obstruents.

Port and O'Dell (1985:455) state: "Furthermore, in a listening test,
German listeners were able to distinguish the voiced and voiceless
pairs with about 60% accuracy --- significantly better than chance."

Alexis Manaster-Ramer writes:

> Thus, I stand by my statement that there is no evidence that
> anybody has ever heard such contrasts in German

Ear-trained phoneticians, in fact most linguists, will know that
phonetic theory is taught and perpetuated mostly through oral tradition,
rather than published citations. Like it or not, therefore, however
good or bad I and my colleagues are at
digging up the old references to support the claim about incomplete
neutralization cannot settle the argument. I was taught in class
that for some speakers and dialects at least Final Obstruent Devoicing
in German is NOT absolute neutralization, and we listened to some
native speakers of German. This was in 1981, i.e. 4 years before
Port and O'Dell's J. Phonetics article. I took it to be
one of those pieces of "common knowledge" that all or perhaps I
should say most ear-trained phoneticians in the Ellis/Bell/Sweet/Jones
tradition learned. So I know that SOME ear-trained phoneticians
at least claimed that German FOD was not incomplete neutralization,
before Mitleb, Port, Dinnsen, Charles-Luce, and Kohler's studies
were published. Perhaps it came from David Abercrombie. I'm not sure
and I admit it has proved very difficult to track down the claim in

By the way, I would like to throw the writer/rider stuff into the
pot, since I have references to show the acuteness of ear-trained
phoneticians in spotting THIS instance of incomplete neutralization.

P.S. On the incomplete neutralization of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ in
American English, see also Donia Scott's abstract in JASA Suppl. 1, Vol.
75, (1984), p. S66. The experiment she reports verified the skills of
ear-trained phoneticians to resolve cues to the voicing distinction
even when the so-called identical /t/ and /d/ were cross-spliced.

--- John Coleman
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