The production of intervocalic liquid consonants by five speakers of Spanish and four speakers of Russian was examined using ultrasound. Liquids in both languages were found to be united by a lower susceptibility to vocalic coarticulation than coronal obstruents produced in the same environments. Tongue body articulation in the Spanish lateral resembled that of a mid-front vowel; dorsal posture in the Spanish trill resembled that of a mid-back vowel. Tongue body articulation in Russian non-palatalized laterals resembled that of a mid-back vowel, and Russian non-palatalized trills were produced with a dorsal posture resembling that of a mid-central vowel.
These results are consistent with the hypothesis that coronal liquid consonants consist of a consonant-like coronal component and an intrinsic vowel-like dorsal component (Delattre and Freeman, Linguistics 44: 29– 68, 1968; Sproat and Fujimura, Journal of Phonetics 21: 291–311, 1993). Liquid segments are modeled as recurrent stable constellations in which a tongue-tip gesture is coordinated with a tongue-body gesture (Browman and Goldstein, Gestural syllable position effects in American English, AIP Press, 1995). Differences between ‘clear’ and ‘pharyngealized’ liquids are attributed to differences in dorsal target locations. Rhotic allophony is argued to result from the interaction of articulatory and aerodynamic factors. Spanish liquid vocalization is modeled as lenition of tongue tip gestures, and Slavic liquid metathesis as a change in intergestural coupling relationships.
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