Contrast enhancement motivates closed-syllable laxing and open-syllable tensing
Benjamin Storme
October 2017

Many languages avoid tense vowels before word-final and preobstruent consonants through vowel laxing and avoid lax vowels word-finally and before prevocalic consonants through vowel tensing. This paper argues that these processes are motivated by contrast enhancement. Vowel laxing is a strategy to enhance the distinctiveness of postvocalic consonant contrasts: it applies before word-final and preobstruent consonants as a way to compensate for the absence of good perceptual cues to consonant place of articulation in these contexts. Vowel tensing is a strategy to enhance the distinctiveness of vowel contrasts. The two strategies conflict to determine vowel quality in vowel-consonant sequences and language variation results from different ways of solving this conflict in grammars with constraints on contrasts. This analysis corroborates the general claim that perceptual contrast, and in particular contrast enhancement, plays a role in shaping phonotactic restrictions (e.g. Flemming 2002).
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/003700
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: submitted
keywords: phonology, phonetics, perceptual enhancement, typology, dispersion theory, southern french
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