Phonetik und Sprachverarbeitung

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The relationship between coarticulation, prosodic weakening, and sound change

Funding, application period

DFG, 2012 - 2015

Project description

Previous studies have shown that historical sound change can be linked synchronically to a misperception on the part of the listener of the way in which sounds are made to overlap or coarticulate with each other by the speaker. The main aim of the present proposal is to extend this idea to so-called prosodically weak contexts including unstressed syllables and unaccented words. The hypothesis to be tested is that the misperception of the coarticulatory timing relationships between sounds is more likely in prosodically weak than strong positions. Listeners will be measured on their sensitivity to the coarticulatory influence of speech sounds using techniques from speech synthesis: the prediction is that their sensitivity to such influences will diminish when the same words or syllables occur in prosodically weak contexts. These effects will be tested using German materials that are designed to simulate three well-known sound changes: the fronting of back vowels in alveolar contexts; the mutual influence of vowels on each other that has resulted in vowel harmony and umlaut; and vowel shortening before consonant clusters. Physiological data of the tongue, lips, and jaw movement will be collected in these three contexts in order to compare the relationship between the perception and production of coarticulation. The general longterm aim of this project is to advance our understanding of how speech perception and its relationship to production plays a role in the prevalence of historical sound change in prosodically weak contexts.