The Acoustic Correlates Of ATR Harmony In Seven- And Nine-vowel African Languages: A Phonetic Inquiry Into Phonological Structure
Starwalt, Coleen Grace Anderson
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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.