Based on impressionistic and acoustic data, Assamese is described as having a phonological tongue root harmony system, with blocking by certain phonological configurations and over-application in certain morphological contexts. This study explores physical properties of the patterns using ultrasonic imaging to determine whether the impressionistic descriptions match what speakers actually do. Principal components analysis (PCA) determines that most participants produce a contrast in tongue root position in the appropriate contexts, though there is less of an impact on tongue root with greater distance from the triggering vowel. Analysis uses the root mean squared distance (RMSD) calculation to determine whether both blocking and over-application take effect. The blocking results conform to the impressionistic descriptions. With over-application, [e] and [o] are expected; while some speakers clearly produce these vowels, others articulate a vowel that is indeterminant between the expected [e]/[o] and an unexpected [ɛ]/[ɔ]. No speaker consistently showed the expected tongue root position in all contexts, and some speakers appeared to have lost the contrast entirely, yet all are considered to be speakers of the same dialect of Assamese. Whether this (apparent) loss is a consequence of crude research methodologies or accurately reflects what is happening within the language community remains an open question.
Across languages, the acoustic and articulatory correlates of breathiness are similar whether they are associated with consonants or with vowels. This raises the question of whether breathy consonants are confusable with breathy vowels in languages in which a phonemically breathy vowel contrasts with a phonemically modal vowel that follows a breathy-aspirated consonant, e. g. Gujarati /ba̤ɾ/ ‘outside’ vs. /bʱaɾ/ ‘burden’, respectively. We investigate the perception of a minimal triplet of Gujarati words, with a breathy vowel vs. a breathy consonant vs. an all-modal sequence, via three tasks: free-sort, AX discrimination, and picture-matching identification. Results across the three tasks indicate that breathiness is indeed confusable across the association types. Specifically, while listeners do recognize the stronger breathiness in vowels following breathy consonants, they are not necessarily able to determine whether that breathiness is associated with the vowel or the consonant. Furthermore, they do not reliably recognize the subtler breathiness of breathy vowels, which often indicates that they are the same as or an acceptable realization of an all-modal sequence (/baɾ/ ‘twelve’). This suggests a potential perceptual merger in Gujarati, despite previously-reported evidence of a robust three-way contrast in production.
Lamkang is a Trans-Himalayan language spoken in the Chandel District of Manipur, India by under 10,000 ethnically Naga people. Due to a complex person indexation system in Lamkang clauses, multiple prefixes with the shape C- are attached to a verb stem creating lexemes with the shape CCCCVC. To make such forms pronounceable, speakers insert super-short vowel-like segments between the C- prefixes. Combining acoustic analysis with speakers’ intuitions about syllable structure, we examine the nature of these segments, arguing that an accurate phonetic description of Lamkang vowels must include these super-short vowels, as well as long and short vowels, which are phonemically distinct. We call these super-short vowels excrescent, following the terminology discussed in Hall (2011. Vowel epenthesis. In Marc van Oostendorp, Colin J. Ewen, Elizabeth V. Hume & Keren Rice (eds.), The blackwell companion to phonology, 1576–1596. Oxford: Blackwell. doi: 10.1002/9781444335262.wbctp0067: 1584). The excrescent vowel is a type of epenthetic vowel, sometimes also called “intrusive”, and is typified by its short duration and centralized quality distinct from lexical vowels. It is unstressed and has the phonetic effect of helping to transition between consonants. We show that the excrescent vowels in Lamkang have formant structures that barely resemble the characteristic formant profiles of the short and long vowels. While excrescent vowels are not contrastive, they are phonologically relevant because they have just enough sonority to form nuclei of CiVCii syllables where Cii is often ambisyllabic with the following syllable. The Lamkang data show that while any language-specific phonotactic constraints must reference the syllable, what constitutes a syllable must include the possibility of excrescent vowels as nuclei.
Kalasha (Northwestern Indo-Aryan, spoken in Pakistan) exhibits a complex set of ten affricate phonemes, which is exceedingly rare among the world’s languages and not representative of the broader South Asian context. This paper presents results of an acoustic analysis of place contrasts (dental, retroflex, and alveolopalatal) in affricates of four laryngeal specifications (voiceless unaspirated, voiceless aspirated, non-breathy voiced, and breathy voiced). These consonants were produced by four male speakers of Kalasha in a variety of phonetic contexts, resulting in a sample of close to 700 affricate tokens. A series of acoustic analyses of the data revealed that place contrasts in Kalasha affricates are distinguished robustly by both burst/frication spectra and formant transitions, but not by duration, which correlates more with laryngeal features. Place distinctions are somewhat diminished for voiced affricates but are largely unaffected by aspiration and syllable position. Most of these results are consistent with what is known about comparable (yet laryngeally simpler) place contrasts in other languages outside of South Asia. However, some of them are unique and may reflect the typological uniqueness and complexity of Kalasha’s affricate system.
This chapter is a short thematic introduction to the papers that appear in this special volume on the phonetics and phonology of a selective but representative set of languages from the South Asian sprachbund. The volume consists of five papers that engage with a broad set of topics, namely, acoustics of Kalasha affricates, perception of breathiness in Gujarati, syllable structure of Kuki-Chin, syllable structure and incipient vowels in Lamkang, and vowel harmony in Assamese. These papers, we hope, are representative in terms of the choice of theoretical frameworks and methodologies employed in addressing the various linguistic phenomena.
The Kuki-Chin group of the Tibeto-Burman language family consists of upwards of 50 languages spoken mainly in western Myanmar, predominantly in Chin State and in neighboring areas of India and Bangladesh (Simons & Fennig (eds.). 2019. Ethnologue: Languages of the world, 21st edn. Dallas Texas: SIL International. Online version. http://www.ethnologue.com/). In the many daughter languages of Proto–Kuki-Chin, syllable structure simplification has yielded a synchronic situation in which individual languages are spread along a cline ranging from more conservative languages, some with complex onsets and vowel length distinctions, to more innovative languages, some with no coda consonants at all. The distribution and phonetic realization of these features vary across the Kuki-Chin group, raising a number of relevant questions about the underlying phonological representations of the Kuki-Chin syllable. This paper surveys representative structures from a variety of Kuki-Chin languages in order to highlight issues in syllable structure across these little-studied languages. In doing so, we aim to both unify observations on Kuki-Chin phonology related to the syllable, and to propose research that will further elucidate its structures.