RHYTHM AND VOWEL QUALITY IN ACCENTS OF ENGLISH
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This paper will examine rhythmic differences among native and non-native accents of English, and report on a pilot experiment investigating a hypothesized interaction between rhythm and vowel quality. A new metric, % SteadyState, an acoustic measure that quantifies the purity of vowels, appears to capture rhythmic differences that have been reported among various native and non-native accents of English. In the tradition of other recently developed rhythm metrics, these findings suggest a link between rhythm and segmental phonology. Additionally, the perspective gained from this study may be beneficial to learners whose goal is native-like vowel quality, offering an understanding of the dynamic properties of English vowels. In a sample of 27 speakers of Scottish Standard English two notoriously variable consonantal features are investigated: the contrast of /m/ and /w/ and non-prevocalic /r/, the latter both in terms of its presence or absence and the phonetic form it takes, if present. The pattern of realisation of non-prevocalic /r/ largely confirms previously reported findings. But there are a number of surprising results regarding the merger of /m/ and /w/ and the loss of non-prevocalic /r/: While the former is more likely to happen in younger speakers and females, the latter seems more likely in older speakers and males. This is suggestive of change in progress leading to a loss of the /m/ - /w/ contrast, while the variation found in non-prevocalic /r/ follows an almost inverse sociolinguistic pattern that does not suggest any such change and is additionally largely explicable in language-internal terms. One phenomenon requiring further investigation is the curious effect direct contact with Southern English accents seems to have on non-prevocalic /r/: innovation on the structural level (i.e. loss) and conservatism on the realisational level (i.e. increased incidence of [r] and [r]) appear to be conditioned by the same sociolinguistic factors.
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