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Dissertation Information

Title: Geminate Typology and the Perception of Consonant Duration Add Dissertation
Author: Olga Dmitrieva Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Degree Awarded: Stanford University , Department of Linguistics
Completed in:
Linguistic Subfield(s): Phonetics Phonology
Director(s): Arto Anttila
Meghan Sumner
Jaye Padgett

Abstract: The crosslinguistic typology of geminate consonants demonstrates
several prominent tendencies: geminates are typically found in
intervocalic positions, often after stressed vowels, but are avoided in
adjacency to other consonants and on word boundaries, more so
word-initially than word-finally; sonorant geminates are more infrequent
than obstruent geminates. This dissertation investigates the effect that
the contextual environment (vocalic or consonantal neighbours,
position with respect to the edges of the word and stressed vowels) as
well as the phonetic properties of the consonants themselves (sonority,
continuancy, and voicing) has on the perception of the contrast
between short and long consonants. The primary goal of the
perceptual experiment with speakers of Russian, American English,
and Italian as participants was to demonstrate that perception of the
duration distinction in consonant was context-dependent.

The experimental results showed that perceptual contrast
distinctiveness was higher in the intervocalic than in the
preconsonantal environment, and in the word-initial than in the word-
final position. These generalizations are based on the facts that the
perception of the distinction was less categorical in the preconsonantal
and word-final conditions: consonants were less consistently
categorized as either short or long, while a greater portion of a
durational continuum caused indecision about the category
membership of the consonant. In addition, perception of durational
distinctions in the preconsonantal and word-final conditions was
affected by singleton-bias: listeners were more reluctant to categorize
consonants in these environments as long.

Distinctiveness-based explanation for the crosslinguistic preference for
post-tonic and obstruent geminates was not supported by the
experimental results. It was found that stress did not affect perception
of consonant duration. However, a survey of several languages for
which a stress-geminacy connection was reported showed a striking
correlation between weight-sensitivity and tendency to geminate in the
post-stress position. Thus, an alternative account for this typological
pattern is proposed, which states that gemination is used in the weight-
sensitive languages to repair light stressed syllables, creating a
typological connection between geminate consonants and stress.

Results concerning the perception of consonant duration as a function
of the phonetic properties of the consonant showed that the duration
distinction was easiest to perceive in sonorant consonants (liquids and
nasals) and alveolar voiceless fricatives. Both voiced and voiceless
alveolar stops conditioned a less well-defined perceptual contrast.
These results contradict typological observations and some previous
experimental data, thus warranting further research in this domain.

The dissertation also develops an optimality-theoretic account of
typological asymmetries in the distribution of duration contrasts,
focusing on the effects of segmental environment (intervocalic and
preconsonantal) and word-position (word-initial and word-final). The
proposed model accounts for several aspects of geminate typology
though the interaction between constraints on syllable weight and
perceptually motivated constraints on the distinctiveness of duration