On The Phonologization of Partially Contrastive Phones /t/ and /tʃ/ in American English via Two Experiments

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The Ohio State University

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This thesis explores the phenomenon of /t/ affrication before /ɹ/ in American English. Over the past several decades, linguists have observed that [t] has become more often pronounced as [tʃ] when preceding /ɹ/ in general English speech, in such words as ‘tree’ [tʃɹi] and ‘truck’ [tʃɹʌk]. This change was likely spurred by coarticulation, a phonetic phenomenon where a sound unit is affected by the physical characteristics of a nearby sound. In this case, the further-back-in-the mouth /ɹ/ triggers the /t/ to be produced further back in the mouth. This is an example of retraction, a type of coarticulation. Because a retracted /t/ becomes more like the affricate /tʃ/, it may also be termed “affrication”. We tested the hypothesis that this phenomenon has been phonologization using two experiments. In the perception experiment, we investigated how /t/ before /ɹ/ is perceived and categorized as a function of the phonetic factors speaking rate, word location in a sentence, syllable count, and vowel. Next, we conducted a corpus study to analyze the change over time of the phenomenon of /t/ affrication before /ɹ/ in Columbus speakers and observed speaking rate’s effects on this affrication. The effects of the phonetic factors were used as a metric to discern whether the affrication phenomenon has undergone phonologization. The results of the perception experiment fail to provide clear evidence for or against the phonologization conclusion, with results pointing in both directions, although, evidence may be leaning against phonologization. The results of the corpus study indicate that the phonologization conclusion should be rejected. However, no consensus was found, and, as such, the phonologization question is still open to investigation.



phonologization, speech perception, affrication, sound change, phonology, phonetics