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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Acoustic Correlates of ATR Harmony in Seven- and Nine-Vowel African Languages: A phonetic inquiry into phonological structure Add Dissertation
Author: Coleen Starwalt Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Texas at Arlington, Department of Linguistics and TESOL
Completed in: 2008
Linguistic Subfield(s): Phonetics; Phonology;
Language Family(ies): Niger-Congo
Director(s): David Silva

Abstract: This study compares eleven Niger-Congo languages with [ATR] harmony and
seeks to determine especially whether the acoustic properties of the 'voice
quality' differences associated with [ATR] in nine-vowel languages, such as
Akan, are present or absent in all, some or none of the seven-vowel languages.

Of particular interest is the nature of the height 2 and 3 vowels of the
nine- and degree 2 vowels of seven-vowel systems. First, this study
corroborates previous work on nine-vowel systems by demonstrating that
height 2 vowels [-ATR] [ɪ ʊ] frequently overlap with height 3 vowels [+ATR]
[e o]. Next, it considers the question that the two types of seven-vowel
systems recognized in African languages – /i e ɛ a ɔ o u/ and /i ɪ ɛ a ɔ ʊ
u/ – may be manifestations of a single system. Given that degree 2 vowels
of either seven-vowel system (/e o/ or /ɪ ʊ/) overlap in nine-vowel
languages, how can we know which system we have? Do the acoustic correlates
of [ATR] in nine-vowel systems help us to answer this question or is it
reasonable for linguists to use indeterminacy as an argument for new
theories of vowel features?

Results confirm that F1 is the primary acoustic correlate of [ATR] in both
nine and seven vowel systems: [+ATR] vowels have lower F1 mean values than
their [-ATR] counterparts. Other acoustic correlates of [ATR], such as
bandwidth or 'Normalized A1-A2,' have some value in understanding the
acoustics of systems with [ATR] harmony. Center of gravity, another measure
of spectral flatness, also shows promise: [-ATR] vowels have higher center
of gravities than their [+ATR] counterparts. Evidence suggests the extreme
ends of the center of gravity measures may be more perceptually salient
than those in the middle. Speakers of languages with nine underlying or
surface vowels tend to exploit center of gravity extremes for one of the
[ATR] pairs, but speakers of 7-vowel languages tend to have more neutral
center of gravity settings. The latter finding leaves open the door that
some speakers of 7-vowel languages may not be manipulating tongue root
position in differentiating [ATR] harmony pairs.