Three steps forward for predictability. Consideration of methodological robustness, indexical and prosodic factors, and replication in the laboratory

Paul Foulkes 1 , Gerry Docherty 2 , Stefanie Shattuck Hufnagel 3  and Vincent Hughes 4
  • 1 University of York,, Language and Linguistic Science, York, Ireland
  • 2 Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia
  • 3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
  • 4 University of York, York, Ireland
Paul Foulkes, Gerry Docherty, Stefanie Shattuck Hufnagel and Vincent Hughes


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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