LINGUIST List 5.1236

Sat 05 Nov 1994

Sum: Taps/Flaps

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Message 1: Summary: taps/flaps

Date: Fri, 4 Nov 1994 15:49:35 +Summary: taps/flaps
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Subject: Summary: taps/flaps

Taps/Flaps: Summary:
Not long ago I asked about dialectal variation in English taps (sometimes
called flaps) for <t>. Many thanks to the thirty or so respondents, who I
will name only where I cite them.
There was general agreement that the Trager description was not (or,
possibly, was no longer) accurate, although one respondent suggested that
his description might fit Southern US accents better than Northern ones.
Flapping/tapping of a word-final <t> before a stressed syllable is possible
for most of those who responded.
Some varieties are reported to be leniting the flap further, possibly to zero.
Various speakers, however, had noted flaps/taps in other people's dialects
which sounded odd to them, eg in words like _button_ and _eighteen_. Both
of these seem to be OK here (at least on iambic-reversal 18).
The most thorough suggestion came from Ian MacKay:
>An intervocalic t or d is flapped as long as the following syllable (ie,
>the syllable containing the second of the two vowels that the t or d is
>"inter") does NOT carry primary stress, and that the second vowel does
>not carry significantly more stress than the first vowel, and with
>the proviso that word boundaries may block the phenomenon (but don't
>ask me to specify the nature of those word boundaries!!!).
One (British) respondent said that in their dialect, tapping/flapping
seemed to be lexically determined, not determined by phonetic environment,
so that a flap/tap was possible in _witty_ but not _pretty_, in _British_
but not in _skittish_.
And Don Churma brought in the spectre of morphological conditioning, which
might also account for the examples above:
>In fact, there are still further details that most folks
>seem to be unaware of, like the relevance of "Level 2" morpheme
>boundaries (cf. my flapped /t/ before the secondarily stressed /I/ in
>(deadjectival) "elitism" vs. aspirated /t/ in (denominal) "magnetism").
At least all these different aspects of the problem make it clear why it is
so hard to describe properly.
*Syllable-final, syllable-initial or ambisyllabic?*
Alice Turk reports that her experiments suggest that an ambisyllabic
analysis is the most explanatory. This is also reported as the solution
used by Kahn.
Other respondents argued for syllable-initial (on the grounds that for them
syllable-final was always glottalised) or syllable-final (on the grounds
that voiceless taps/flaps also occurred, but only in clear syllable-final
position or that clearly syllable-initial /t/s were always aspirated).
As John Harris remarked:
>As to the coda-vs-onset issue, I'm sure you'd agree, the competition is not
>going to be resolved by simply inspecting the data (or even listening to it),
>since codas and onsets are not present in them. It's a matter of comparing
>the two theories.
I couldn't agree more, especially since I am aware of conflicting
definitions of ambisyllabicity in the literature on Dependency Phonology.
Harris, John 1990 Phonology 7,
Harris John & Kaye 1990 The Linguistic Review
Harris, John 1994 English sound structure (Blackwell) chapter 4
Kahn, Daniel, 1976 Syllable-based generalizations in English. Dissertation.
Olive, J.P., A. Greenwoord, & J. Coleman. 1993. Acoustics of American
English Speech. Springer-Verlag
Picard, Marc (1984) "English aspiration and flapping revisited". CANADIAN
Turk, A. (1993) Effects of Position-in-Syllable and Stress on Consonant
Articulation. Cornell Ph. D. Dissertation
Zue, V. & M. Laferriere. 1979. Acoustic study of medial /t,d/ in American
English. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 66: 1039-1050.
Department of Linguistics, Victoria University, PO Box 600, Wellington, New
Ph: +64 4 472 1000 x 8800 Fax: +64 4 471 2070
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