This paper offers an account for the cross-linguistic prevalence of phonological word-final vowel shortening, in the face of phonetic final lengthening, also commonly observed across languages. Two contributing factors are hypothesized: (1) an overlap in the durational distributions of short and long vowel phonemes across positions in the utterance can lead to the misidentification of phonemic vowel length and (2) the direction of bias in such misidentification is determined by the distributional properties of the short and long vowel phonemes in the region of the durational overlap. Because short vowel phonemes are typically more frequent in occurrence and less variable in duration than long vowel phonemes, long vowel phonemes are more likely to be misidentified than short vowel phonemes. Results of production and perception studies in Tokyo Japanese support these hypotheses.
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