Speaker Series: Lisa Davidson - NYU

The limited distribution of syllabic nasals in American English
Lisa Davidson,  Department of Linguistics, NYU
Examples of syllabic nasals in English are common in 
phonological accounts (e.g., Hammond 1999, Wells 1995). 
However, the accounts typically rely on introspective 
judgments and examples of where syllabic nasals can occur 
and where [əN] must be produced can seem arbitrary: e.g., 
button (Southern British English (SBE): /button/ [bʌtn̩], 
AmEng: [bʌʔn̩], /seven/ [sɛvn̩], but [ən] for /sullen, 
sudden, blacken/). A few studies have used phonetic criteria 
to determine nasal syllabicity (Toft 2002, Roach et al 
1992), but most work is based on SBE and/or examines few 
words. In this study, speech materials for eliciting 
potential syllabic nasal environments in American English 
are designed.

Target words contain potential syllabic nasals ([n̩/ən]) in 
word final position, e.g. ripen, risen, rotten, sudden. 
Words were evenly divided by the manner of the consonant 
preceding the final [n̩/ən]: oral stops, glottal stops, 
fricatives, flaps, and laterals, as well as 10 words with 
potential syllabic [m̩] (e.g. /prism/). The stimuli were 
recorded by 25 native speakers of Northeastern AmEng. 
Results indicate that [n̩] is found primarily in words with 
preceding [ʔ], and to a lesser extent in words with 
preceding [ɾ]/[d]. For all other preceding manners, words 
are produced overwhelmingly with [ən]. Furthermore, 
inspection of individual speakers for both [ʔ] and [ɾ]/[d] 
shows that variation is across, not within, speakers.

These findings indicate that the production of [n̩] is 
mainly limited to post-[ʔ] position in Northeastern AmEng, 
with some extension to [ɾ]/[d]. The lack of schwa primarily 
after [ʔ] may relate to findings that some positions favor 
glottally-reinforced productions of /t/ in AmEng, which may 
in turn account for why AmEng has the /ʔ/ allophone before 
nasals. A possible gestural account of how glottalization 
could give rise to syllabic nasals, and potential reasons 
for extension of syllabic nasals to preceding [ɾ]/[d] will 
be considered.


Thursday, December 6, 2018 - 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Stiteler Hall, Room B21