Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing

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Typology of Vowel and Consonant Quantity in Southern German varieties: acoustic, perception, and articulatory analyses of adult and child speakers (project stage 1)

In cooperation with Sylvia Moosmüller (Acoustics Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences) and Stephan Schmid (Phonetics Laboratory, University of Zurich)

Project website

Funding, application period

DFG (D-A-CH), 2016-2019 (project stage 1)

Project description

Previous studies have shown a relationship between diachronic change and synchronic variation, language acquisition, and internal and external factors. In this proposal we explore these issues in an investigation of the (in)stability of quantity relations in vowel plus consonant (VC) sequences in Southern German standard varieties and dialects using a wide range of diverse methods. While Swiss German quantity relations have been relatively stable through time (maintaining both a vowel and a consonant length contrast in present-day varieties), the Old High German consonant length contrast has been lost in Standard German, and in Central Bavarian varieties vowel and consonant length are now in complementary distribution. Moreover, this Bavarian VC timing pattern appears to be changing, presumably due to dialect leveling. The present proposal embraces the opportunity to examine this prosodic change in progress and to compare the unstable timing patterns with more stable patterns found in other varieties with a large-scale apparent-time study. The main aim is to contribute to a better understanding of prosodic changes in the languages of the world by modeling the conditions under which timing patterns change diachronically. Four specific aims form part of the proposal: (1) to develop a typology of quantities in Southern German varieties that takes into account dialects as well as the three national standard varieties; (2) to further investigate the prosodic change in progress in Bavarian and to model the circumstances that lead some varieties to undergo prosodic changes while others do not; (3) to examine the influence of internal factors (e.g. speech rate) and external factors (e.g. language attitudes) on synchronic variation in the production-perception-relationship in adults; (4) to study the development of timing patterns during first language acquisition and whether some of the synchronic variation observed in children can be attributed to sound change. The innovation of the proposal is in the large-scale cross-linguistic apparent-time study that includes children of different ages, the combination of articulatory, acoustical, and auditory methods, and the consideration of both social and phonetic factors. The proposed project links methods for acoustic and sociophonetic analyses of timing patterns in Austrian varieties established at the ARI (Vienna) with acoustic, perceptual and physiological methods for studying the production-perception-relation in German speakers of different ages developed at the IPS (Munich) as well as with the typology-based methods for quantifying Swiss varieties established at the Phonetics Laboratory (Zurich). This collaboration will form part of a long-term project which aims to develop a model of quantity stability, acquisition and linguistic change that integrates experimental data for the internal and external factors to be investigated in the proposal.