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Linguistics Vanguard

A Multimodal Journal for the Language Sciences

Editor-in-Chief: Bergs, Alexander / Cohn, Abigail C. / Good, Jeff

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Practice makes perfect: the consequences of lexical proficiency for articulation

Fabian Tomaschek / Benjamin V. Tucker / Matteo Fasiolo
  • School of Mathematics, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ R. Harald Baayen
Published Online: 2018-09-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2017-0018


Many studies report shorter acoustic durations, more coarticulation and reduced articulatory targets for frequent words. This study investigates a factor ignored in discussions on the relation between frequency and phonetic detail, namely, that motor skills improve with experience. Since frequency is a measure of experience, it follows that frequent words should show increased articulatory proficiency. We used EMA to test this prediction on German inflected verbs with [a] as stem vowels. Modeling median vertical tongue positions with quantile regression, we observed significant modulation by frequency of the U-shaped trajectory characterizing the articulation of the [a:]. These modulations reflect two constraints, one favoring smooth trajectories through anticipatory coarticulation, and one favoring clear articulation by realizing lower minima. The predominant pattern across sensors, exponents, and speech rate suggests that the constraint of clarity dominates for lower-frequency words. For medium-frequency words, the smoothness constraint leads to a raising of the trajectory. For the higher-frequency words, both constraints are met simultaneously, resulting in low minima and stronger coarticulation. These consequences of motor practice for articulation challenge both the common view that a higher-frequency of use comes with more articulatory reduction, and cognitive models of speech production positing that articulation is post-lexical.

Keywords: coarticulation; frequency of use; predictability; quantile regression; generalized additive models


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About the article

Received: 2017-04-27

Accepted: 2018-06-26

Published Online: 2018-09-06

Citation Information: Linguistics Vanguard, Volume 4, Issue s2, 20170018, ISSN (Online) 2199-174X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2017-0018.

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