Long-range liquid coarticulation in American English: a preliminary study

Brianna Alys Maloney


The sounds [r] and [l] are  unique in the sense that in a word containing that sound, vowels for several syllables before and after the [r]/ [l] will be slightly [r]- or [l]-like themselves. The effect of different sounds on vowels can be measured by analyzing the specific formants, or acoustic components of vowel sounds. Previous studies have found that in British English dialects, the liquid sounds /r/ and /l/ have long-range acoustic effects, meaning that they affect the quality of vowels for several syllables before and after the liquid. In sentences that are phonetically similar except for a critical consonant (/r/ or /l/), there are significant effects on vowel formant frequencies within a range of two syllables before and after this consonant when compared to a neutral /h/ sound. The pronunciation of [r], particularly, is different in British English than in American English because they do not pronounce a [r] sound at the end of a word (e.g. car). Also, many British speakers pronounce [r] using a different part of the tongue than American speakers. The current project looks for evidence of similar effects in American English, by gathering and analyzing data of one native English speaker who was acoustically recorded pronouncing 3 repetitions of 95 target words that were similar except for a critical consonant, /r/, /l/, or /h/, in a frame sentence. This pilot study found that /r/ and /l/ have anticipatory coarticulatory effects ranging at least one syllable, and probably three syllables, although the trends for the third syllable fall slightly short of significance.


Phonetics; speech production; coarticulation

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