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Voice onset time and constriction duration in Warlpiri stops (Australia)

  • Rikke L. Bundgaard-Nielsen EMAIL logo and Carmel O’Shannessy
From the journal Phonetica


This paper presents a first detailed analysis of the Voice Onset Time (VOT) and Constriction Duration (CD) of stops /p t ʈ c k/ and flap /ɽ/ in the Indigenous Australian language Warlpiri as spoken in Lajamanu Community, in Australia’s Northern Territory. The results show that Warlpiri stops are realised as voiceless, long-lag stops word-initially, as well as word-medially, where /p t k/ are also characterised by CDs in excess of 100 ms. This is similar to what has been reported for Kriol, and for the emerging mixed language Light Warlpiri, also spoken in the community, and by some of the participants. The results indicate that Warlpiri does not obligatorily make a word-medial distinction between stops orthographically represented by ‘rt’ and ‘rd’, which have previously been argued to be realised as /ʈ/ and /ɽ/, respectively, at least in some varieties of Warlpiri. Finally, the results also suggest that the realisation of word-initial Warlpiri flap /ɽ/ is highly variable, potentially resulting in a near-merger with /ɻ/.

Corresponding author: Rikke L. Bundgaard-Nielsen, MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University, Greater Western Sydney, Australia; and University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia, E-mail:

Award Identifier / Grant number: 1348013


We thank the participants of the studies presented here and all members of Lajamanu Community. We heartily thank Brett Baker, David Nash, Marija Tabain, and the audience at ICPhS 2019 in Melbourne for careful comments on the study. We thank Hywel Stoakes for assistance with praat, and Hwan-Jin Yoon (ANU Statistical Consulting Unit) for assistance with the statistical analyses.

  1. Author contributions: Carmel O’Shannessy (CO’S) designed the data collection protocol and collected the data. Rikke Bundgaard-Nielsen (RBN) undertook the acoustic segmentation labeling, acoustic measurements, and descriptive statistics. CO’S and RBN jointly decided on the statistical procedures, which were run by CO’S. Interpretation of the statistical results was undertaken jointly. RBN drafted the manuscript. CO’S provided comments and suggestions.

  2. Research funding: The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant #1348013) and the Australian National University (ANU) Futures Scheme grants.

  3. Conflict of interest statement: The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

  4. Ethical approval: The participants of the study presented provided written informed consent. The research presented was approved by the University of Michigan (#HUM00020003) and ANU Human Research Ethics Committees (#2015/222).


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Supplementary Material

The online version of this article offers supplementary material (

Received: 2020-10-05
Accepted: 2021-03-20
Published Online: 2021-04-15
Published in Print: 2021-04-27

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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