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Sound change, lexical frequency, and variability

Funding, application period

DFG, 2006 - 2011

Project description

The general aim of this proposal is to model the forces that cause the sounds of language to change by analysing spoken broadcast material of the standard accent of England, Received Pronunciation, or RP, over a 50 year time period. Two types of real-time analyses will be used to investigate phonetic changes that are reported to have taken place top RP based on various impressionistic studies: firstly, a trend-analysis, in which phonetic comparisons will be made between present-day RP speakers and those from archival recordings; and secondly a panel-analysis in which changes are observed over a long time period in the same person. The speech data for these analyses will be taken from BBC news presentations and the annual Christmas broadcasts of Queen Elizabeth II in the last fifty years. The experimental study of these real-time analyses will be used to address the following main research issues. Firstly, whether there is any evidence that gradual sound change spreads at different rates through the lexicon, affecting initially high frequency words, as suggested by recent exemplar and usage-based models of phonology. Secondly, the proposed research program will contribute to other real-time analyses in addressing the extent to which adults participate in sound change taking place in the community. Thirdly, the study will provide an acoustic phonetic basis to RP sound changes that have been documented largely auditorily and impressionistically. Finally, an important goal of the study is to model the effects of vocal tract maturation on vocal tract resonances.


Book chapters

Harrington, J. (2007). Evidence for a relationship between synchronic variability and diachronic change in the Queen’s annual Christmas broadcasts. In J. Cole and J. Hualde (Eds.) Laboratory Phonology 9 (pp. 125 - 143). Berlin: de Gruyter.

International journals

Harrington, J., Hoole, P., Kleber, F., and Reubold, U. (2011). The physiological, acoustic, and perceptual basis of high back vowel fronting: evidence from German tense and lax vowels. Journal of Phonetics, 39, 121-131.

Harrington, J., Kleber, F., and Reubold, U. (2011, in press). The contributions of the lips and the tongue to the diachronic fronting of high back vowels in Standard Southern British English. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 41, 137 - 156.

Reubold, U., Harrington, J., and Kleber, F. (2010). Vocal aging effects on F0 and the first formant: a longitudinal analysis in adult speakers. Speech Communication, 52, 638-651.

Harrington, J., Kleber, F., and Reubold, U.  (2008). Compensation for coarticulation, /u/-fronting, and sound change in Standard Southern British: an acoustic and perceptual study. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 123, 2825-2835.

Conference proceedings

Kleber, F., Reubold, U. and Harrington, J. (2010) /u/-fronting in RP and the implications of perceptual integration of lip gestures for sound change processes. Laboratory Phonology 12 (Abstract only).

Harrington, J., Kleber, F., and Reubold, U. (2007). U-fronting in RP: a link between sound change and diminished perceptual compensation for coarticulation? Proceedings 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Saarbrücken, Germany.