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Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice

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Language Evolution: The Windows Approach

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Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"


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Academic Paper


Title: Using nonsense words to investigate vowel merger
Author: Jennifer B. Hay
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www.ling.canterbury.ac.nz/jen
Institution: University of Canterbury
Author: Katie Drager
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www.katiedrager.com/
Institution: University of Hawai'i at Mānoa
Author: Brynmor Thomas
Institution: United Arab Emirates University
Linguistic Field: Phonology
Subject Language: English
Abstract: In previous work, we have found that New Zealand listeners who produce merged tokens of near and square can accurately distinguish between the vowels in perception even though they report that they are guessing. The ability to distinguish the vowels is affected by a variety of factors for these listeners, including the likelihood that the speaker and experimenter maintain the distinction (Hay et al. 2006b; Hay et al. 2010). In this article, we report on experiments that examine the production and perception of real and nonsense words in the context of two mergers: the Ellen/Allan merger in New Zealand English and the lot/thought merger found in American English. The results demonstrate that speakers’ degree of merger depends at least partially on whether the word is a real or nonsense word. Additionally, the results indicate that a token's real word status affects the merger differently in production and perception. We argue that these results provide evidence in favour of a hybrid model of speech production and perception, one with both abstract phoneme-level representations and acoustically detailed episodic representations.

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This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 17, Issue 2, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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