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Are initial-consonant lengthening and final-vowel lengthening both universal word segmentation cues?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Laurence WhiteORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Speech segments are lengthened at the onsets and offsets of linguistic constituents. Final-syllable vowel lengthening is proposed to be a language-universal cue to word segmentation, but cross-linguistic investigations of the perception of initial consonant lengthening are lacking. We compared the use of word-initial consonant lengthening and word-final vowel lengthening by native speakers of English, Hungarian and Italian, using an artificial language learning task and varying vowel and consonant durations between subjects within each language group. Word-final vowel lengthening was only exploited for segmentation by English speakers; we interpret its non-universality as potentially due, at least in part, to language-specific functional loads on vowel duration, used for indicating lexical stress in Italian and vowel identity in Hungarian. By contrast, all three language groups used word-initial consonant lengthening to locate word boundaries, but did not benefit from lengthening of vowels in word-initial syllables. If domain-initial consonant timing effects are universal, it may be because they promote two related but separable processing requirements for the listener: a) word segmentation, boosted by lengthening across the boundary; b) lexical access, boosted by articulatory strengthening and lengthening of word onsets.

Publication metadata

Author(s): White L, Benavides-Varela S, Mády K

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Phonetics

Year: 2020

Volume: 81

Print publication date: 01/07/2020

Online publication date: 09/06/2020

Acceptance date: 25/04/2020

Date deposited: 27/04/2020

ISSN (print): 0095-4470

ISSN (electronic): 1095-8576

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.wocn.2020.100982


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