Phonology Workshop Meeting Today (10/18) at noon: Sarah Bakst

Please join the Phonology Workshop today (Friday October 18) at noon in the Greenberg Room for a talk by Sarah Bakst, (UC Berkeley).

A phonetic basis for the patterning of [χ]

The sonority hierarchy determines a segment’s sonority by its natural class, with obstruents registering low on the scale, followed by nasals, liquids, glides, and finally high-sonority vowels. The definition of sonority and existence thereof remain in dispute, but most definitions relate to syllable structure and phonotactics. The phonetic definition in Wright (2004) ranks segments based on the robustness of formant transitions. Other definitions rely on phonological patterning; Clements (1990) relates sonority to the ability of a segment to be a syllable peak.

Some phonetic realizations of the French rhotic are problematic for the sonority hierarchy. When the rhotic occurs in onsets following a voiceless stop, it is realized as a voiceless uvular fricative [χ]. French rhotics, regardless of the phonetic realization, pattern as high-sonority liquids and are one of only a few French segments allowed to occur between a consonant and a vowel; because of its rhotic status, [χ] is the only fricative in French that may occur in this position. There are two possibilities for the analysis of this segment: either the French sonority hierarchy is phonological and abstract, or there is some phonetic property of the voiceless uvular fricative, such as the ability to bear more robust perceptual cues to preceding segments, that allows this peculiar patterning. The present experiment tests whether [χ] is better than another fricative found in French, [f], at providing cues of a preceding stop in stop-fricative clusters.