The articulation of /ɹ/ in New Zealand English

Matthias Heyne, Xuan Wang, myself (Donald Derrick), Kieran Dorreen, and Kevin Watson have recently had an article documenting the articulation of  /ɹ/ in New Zealand English.

This work is therefore in part a follow-up to some of my co-authored research into biomechanical modelling of English  /ɹ/ variants, indicating that vocalic context influences variation through muscle stress, strain, and displacement.  It is, by these three measures, “easier” to move from an /i/ to a tip-down /ɹ/ , but from /a/ to a tip-up /ɹ/.

In this study, for speakers who vary at all (some only do tip-up or tip-down), they are most likely to produce tip-up /ɹ/ in these conditions:

back vowel > low central vowel > high front vowel

initial /ɹ/ > intervocalic /ɹ/ > following a coronal (“dr”) > following a velar (“cr”)

The results show that allophonic variation of NZE /ɹ/ is similar to that in American English, indicating that the variation is caused by similar constraints.  The results support theories of locally optimized modular speech motor control, and a mechanical model of rhotic variation.

The abstract is repeated below, with links to articles contained within:

This paper investigates the articulation of approximant /ɹ/ in New Zealand English (NZE), and tests whether the patterns documented for rhotic varieties of English hold in a non- rhotic dialect. Midsagittal ultrasound data for 62 speakers producing 13 tokens of /ɹ/ in various phonetic environments were categorized according to the taxonomy by Delattre & Freeman (1968), and semi-automatically traced and quantified using the AAA software (Articulate Instruments Ltd. 2012) and a Modified Curvature Index (MCI; Dawson, Tiede & Whalen 2016). Twenty-five NZE speakers produced tip-down /ɹ/ exclusively, 12 tip-up /ɹ/ exclusively, and 25 produced both, partially depending on context. Those speakers who produced both variants used the most tip-down /ɹ/ in front vowel contexts, the most tip- up /ɹ/ in back vowel contexts, and varying rates in low central vowel contexts. The NZE speakers produced tip-up /ɹ/ most often in word-initial position, followed by intervocalic, then coronal, and least often in velar contexts. The results indicate that the allophonic variation patterns of /ɹ/ in NZE are similar to those of American English (Mielke, Baker & Archangeli 2010, 2016). We show that MCI values can be used to facilitate /ɹ/ gesture classification; linear mixed-effects models fit on the MCI values of manually categorized tongue contours show significant differences between all but two of Delattre & Freeman’s (1968) tongue types. Overall, the results support theories of modular speech motor control with articulation strategies evolving from local rather than global optimization processes, and a mechanical model of rhotic variation (see Stavness et al. 2012).

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