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On the Boundaries of Phonology and Phonetics

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The Influence of Speech Rate on Rhythm Patterns

Maartje Schreuder and Dicky Gilbers


The topic of this paper is how rhythmic variability in speech can be accounted for both phonologically and phonetically. The question is whether a higher speech rate leads to adjustment of the phonological structure, or just to 'phonetic compression', i.e. shortening and merging of vowels and consonants, with preservation of the phonological structure. We claim that the melodic content of a phonological domain is indeed adjusted optionally when the speech rate increases. In other words, every speech rate has its own preferred register, in terms of Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky, 1993) its own ranking of constraints.

We will investigate prosodic variability as part of our main research project, which involves a comparison of the analyses of music and language. Our ultimate aim is to provide evidence for the assumption that every temporal behavior is structured similarly (cf. Liberman, 1975). Gilbers and Schreuder (to appear) show that Optimality Theory owes a lot to the constraint-based music theory of Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983). Based on the great similarities between language and music we claim that musical knowledge can help in solving linguistic issues.

In this paper, we will show that clashes are avoided in allegro tempo. In both language and music distances between beats are enlarged, i.e. there appears to be more melodic content between beats. To illustrate this, we ran a pilot experiment in which we elicited fast speech. As expected, speech rate plays a role in rhythmic variability.

The paper is organized as follows. In section 2 the data of the experiment is introduced. Section 3 is addressed to the phonological framework of Optimality Theory and the different rankings of andante and allegro speech. The method of the experiment is discussed in section 4 and the auditive and acoustic analyses plus the results follow in section 5. The perspectives of our analysis will be discussed in the final section.

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