Monday, July 30, 2007

Schtupp in the name of love

I was visiting with a former professor this weekend. She's not a linguist but she is very well acquainted with IPA transcription. She frequently teaches communications and speech and she often incorporates units on transcribing speech.

We were speaking of aural "blind spots" and common mistakes of novice scribes. Some vowels are very difficult to differentiate such as the [a]/[ɔ] distinction (especially for the cot/caught mergers that have overrun her campus) and some spelling conventions are difficult to put aside (such as the 'g' that some students try to put after every [ŋ]).

She also noted an emerging allophone in the speech of some students. She has noticed a trend towards a post-alveolar voiceless fricative [ʃ] before [t]. Right after mentioning this the conversation was interrupted and I was left to sit in the corner muttering [ʃt ʃt ʃt...] to myself. Such moments are common.

Buffy will say to me "you never listen to what I'm saying" and I fade into a trance. My mantra [vɻlɪsn̩ vɻlɨsɨn vɻləsən...]

Several minutes later (perhaps about an hour) I approached my former professor (now friend) and asked her if there was any specific environment in which she noticed this post-alveolar. My guess was that it would not occur in the words steep stick or stop but it would show up in strength string and strange because of the following retroflex.

An interesting co-occurrence of features is the labialization (lip rounding) of the initial approximant [ɹ] even before front vowels and the similar labialisation of initial [ʃ]. Is it possible that the concurrent labial feature as could influence a non-labialized phoneme [s] to resemble a very similar phoneme [ʃ] that does take lip-rounding.

She wasn't sure of a more specific environment but she did promise to listen for it. I don't remember seeing this alternation mentioned but I'll be listening for it very intently now. I really doubt that it's at all related to the pre-consonantal palatalization that we sometimes see in strudel and which is increasingly present in smorgasboard.


  1. David Durian at Ohio State and a set of other folks have been tracking this change. Some pretty interesting stuff.

  2. Excellent. Thanks. Now I know where to start looking.


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