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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 21, 2012

Phonetic explanations for the infrequency of voiced sibilant affricates across languages

  • Marzena Żygis EMAIL logo , Susanne Fuchs and Laura L. Koenig
From the journal Laboratory Phonology


This paper shows that several typologically unrelated languages share the tendency for voiced sibilant affricates to be infrequent or missing altogether. Phonological processes examined in the paper illustrate that (1) voiceless stops undergo affrication more readily than voiced ones, and (2) voiced affricates deaffricate more commonly than voiceless ones, thereby contributing to the asymmetry in frequency between voiced vs. voiceless affricates.

Phonetic properties of the sounds may explain these patterns. Affricates in general require complex control over supralaryngeal apertures, and they appear to have long durations in many languages. Long duration and complete oral closure at the beginning of affricates contribute to a buildup of intraoral pressure which impedes phonation. An aerodynamic experiment of obstruents, including affricates, was carried out for Polish and German, languages which differ in their realization of the stop voicing contrast (viz., voicing vs. aspiration). Voiced affricates in Polish had significantly longer voicing than in German; in medial position, they also had shorter durations and lower peak pressure values. We suggest that languages having voiced affricates in their phoneme inventory may tend to limit duration and intraoral pressure buildup in these sounds to allow vocal-fold vibration to continue.

Centre for General Linguistics (ZAS), Berlin, Germany

Published Online: 2012-11-21
Published in Print: 2012-10-26

©[2012] by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston

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