The duration and perception of English epenthetic and underlying stops

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Ohio State University. Department of Linguistics

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In American English, an intrusive stop occurs before the fricative in words such as tense and false, making them very much like words with underlying stops, such as tents and faults. Ohala (1975) treats the inserted stop as an artifact of universal physiological or aerodynamic constraints. But this approach can't account for the fact that South African English speakers don't insert the stop between sonorant and fricative clusters (Fourakis and Port, 1986). Another approach posits a language- or dialect-specific phonological rule which inserts a phonological segment (Zwicky, 1972). Fourakis and Port (1986), argue against this approach on the ground that in some pairs the intrusive stop is significantly shorter than the underlying one (although the difference is always very small). This paper presents perception data and duration measurements supporting something like Zwicky's approach. Phrases with intrusive and underlying stops (intense and in tents, respectively) in citation forms produced by three speakers of Mid-Western dialects were presented over earphones in random order for subjects to identify. Identification was very poor, just at chance level. Also, duration measurements of the silence gap between the /n/ and /s/ in these words show no significant difference, contrary to Fourakis and Port's findings. Moreover, token judgments in the perception experiment show very poor correlation with the durations except for one speaker, implying that whatever duration differences there might not be a crucial cue that listeners exploit for labeling the words with epenthetic and underlying stops.




Working Papers in Linguistics, no. 43 (1994), 106-116.