There is now abundant evidence that phonetic forms are shaped by probabilistic effects reflecting predictability or informativity. We outline a number of challenges for such work, where theoretical claims are often based on small differences in acoustic measurements, or interpretations of small statistical effect sizes. We outline caveats about the methods and assumptions encountered in many studies of predictability effects, particularly regarding corpus-based approaches. We consider the wide range of factors that influence patterns of variability in phonetic forms, taking a broad perspective on what is meant by “the message” in order to show that predictability effects need to be considered alongside many others, including indexical and prosodic factors. We suggest a number of ways forward to extend our understanding of the form-predictability relationship.
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