The role of syllable structure in external sandhi: An EPG study of vocalisation and retraction in word-final English /l/
Scobbie, James M.
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Scobbie, J. & Pouplier, M. (2010) The role of syllable structure in external sandhi: An EPG study of vocalisation and retraction in word-final English /l/, Journal of Phonetics, vol. 38, , pp. 240-259,
A pre-vocalic connected speech context is said to enable the resyllabification of word-final consonants into an onset, thus conditioning alternations. We present EPG data on English word-final /l/, measuring the extent of alveolar contact and the rate of vocalisation, the extent of dorsal retraction (representing darkness-), and the timing of alveolar contact relative to dorsal retraction. Two dialects of British English are considered, namely Scottish Standard English and Southern Standard British English. Results are that /l/ alternation is systematic: the tongue tip contact of word-final /l/, quite categorically for some speakers, is more onset-like in pre-vocalic and more coda-like in pre-consonantal contexts. This alternation is not along the lines predicted by a segmental resyllabification account, however. First, the segmental identity of the following consonant (/b/ or /h/) may be as powerful a factor in conditioning the presence or absence of alveolar contact for some speakers. Second, glottalisation of lexically vowel-initial words regularly occurs, but does not seem to condition the appearance (or otherwise) of tongue tip contact. Third, the tongue dorsum remains retracted and does not adopt an onset-like form or timing even when /l/ is pre-vocalic. Thus categorical resyllabification of a word-final /l/ segment based on phonotactic acceptability is rejected as a mechanism controlling English L-sandhi in connected speech. Instead, we propose a gestural-episodic model, in which individual gestures display different levels of coherence in lexical syllable roles, while in connected speech, segmental sequences are influenced by similarity to well-rehearsed lexical sequences, if they exist.