Vowel tensity in Standard Austrian and Standard German
Funding, application period
DFG, 2011 - 2013
Although the contrast between so-called tense and lax vowels forms part of many phonological systems, their phonetic distinction is not well understood and often restricted to analyses based on static sections at the vowel target. One of the main aims of the project is to overcome these shortcomings by means of physiological analyses that take into account various dynamic differences in the tense-lax vowel contrast in German. A major focus of this project is a comparison of Standard German (SG) and Standard Austrian German (SAG) based on previous research suggesting that the [±tense] vowel contrast is produced quite differently in these two varieties. Four specific aims form part of this project. Firstly, we seek to establish whether SAG front vowels are differentiated from their SG counterparts by a greater degree of pre-palatalization. Secondly, we will analyse the extent to which the [±tense] vowel distinction in the two varieties can be modeled in terms of the relative overlap of articulatory gestures and more specifically whether lax vowels are cut-off or truncated forms of tense vowels. Thirdly, we will test whether the distinction between [±tense] vowels is phonetically less marked in SAG than in SG and whether this reduced distinction is brought about by an approximation of SAG lax towards tense vowels. Finally, the extent of collapse of the [±tense] contrast as a sound change in progress in SAG will be investigated using an apparent-time comparison between young and old speakers of this variety. In order to test these aims, we will collect physiological data of the speech movements using electromagnetic articulometry (EMA) from young and older speakers of SAG and compare these with speakers of SG. Additional acoustic data from a larger group of SAG-subjects will be obtained. Subjects from both varieties will also participate in a number of perception experiments using continua synthesized between minimal pairs differing in vowel tensity. Our long-term aim is to develop a model at the phonology-phonetics interface that integrates the various findings from near-mergers, sound change, and the dynamic cues to the [± tense] contrast.