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Academic Paper


Title: Fortis and Lenis Fricatives in Tanacross Athabaskan
Author: Gary Holton
Email: click here to access email
Homepage: http://go.alaska.edu/gmholton
Institution: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Linguistic Field: Phonetics
Subject Language: Tanacross
Abstract: In Tanacross, an Athabaskan language of eastern Alaska, fricatives have been reported as having a three-way contrast in laryngeal setting: voiced, voiceless, and “semi-voiced” (cf. Leer 1982; Minoura 1994; Solomon 1996). Voiced fricatives occur only in non stem-initial position; semi-voiced fricatives are restricted to stem-initial position. Voiceless fricatives occur without phonotactic restrictions. Semi-voiced fricatives are generally reported to be a compound segments which begin voiceless and end fully voiced, with a transition midway through the segment. However, this phonetic characterization is not entirely appropriate, and in fact the so-called semi-voiced fricatives are often phonetically voiceless.

In this paper I show that semi-voiced fricatives may be more accurately characterized in terms of the amount of high frequency noise, or frication, accompanying their articulation. The semi-voiced fricatives pattern with voiced fricatives in being accompanied by less energy than their voiceless counterparts. In this sense voiceless fricatives may be considered to have stronger articulation than their voiced or semi-voiced counterparts—an observation which suggests a contrast between fortis and lenis articulations. In particular, voiceless fricatives may be considered fortis, while voiced and semi-voiced fricatives may together be considered lenis. Although many authors have warned against the casual use of the terms fortis and lenis as mere phonological labels (cf. Catford 1977; Ladefoged and Maddieson 1996), the Tanacross data appear to justify these labels when given formal definitions in terms of amplitude, voicing and duration.
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Publication Info: International Journal of American Linguistics 67(4).396-414


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