The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 4/25 - Benjamin Storme

Speaker: Benjamin Storme (MIT)
Title: The loi de position and the acoustics of Southern French mid vowels
Date: Monday, April 25th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831

Southern French is often described as having a syllable-based distribution of tense and lax mid vowels, traditionally known as the loi de position: tense mid vowels occur in open syllables and lax mid vowels in closed syllables. But there is disagreement among authors as to (i) whether the loi de position holds across contexts (Is it limited to stressed syllables? Is it limited to certain consonantal contexts?) and (ii) whether there is durational difference between tense and lax mid vowels (with tense mid vowels being longer). These debates are reflected in dictionaries, which show conflicting phonetic transcriptions of mid vowels (e.g. Ecossais “Scottish” and accoster “touch land” are transcribed as [ekosɛ] and [akɔste] in the Lexique 3.80, in accordance with the loi de position, but as [ekɔsɛ] and [akɔste] in the TLF).

To answer these questions, I will present two acoustic experiments investigating the realization of French oral vowels in different syllabic/segmental/stress contexts. The results support the view that the loi de position holds both in stressed and unstressed syllables and across a range of consonantal contexts (before [r], [l], and [s]). However, the tense/lax distinction is not necessarily accompanied by a durational difference, suggesting that closed syllable vowel laxing and shortening do not always go together, contrary to what has been assumed in most phonological accounts of the loi de position.