Boundary phenomena and variability in Japanese high vowel devoicing

Abstract

Devoicing of high vowels (HVD) in Tokyo Japanese applies in two environments—between voiceless consonants, and between a voiceless consonant and a “pause”—and applies variably as a function of a number of factors. The role and definition of “pause” in this process, in terms of a physical pause or prosodic position (word or phrase boundary), remains unclear, as does what is expected when these environments overlap, and why HVD appears to be categorical in some environments and variable in others. This paper addresses three outstanding issues about HVD—the role of “boundary phenomena” (prosodic position and physical pauses), the relationship between the two environments, and the sources of variability in HVD—by examining vowel devoicing in a large corpus of spontaneous Japanese. We use mixed-effects logistic regression to model how boundary phenomena affect the likelihood of devoicing and modulate the effects of other variables, controlling for other major factors, including a measure of gestural overlap. The results suggest that all boundary phenomena jointly affect devoicing rate, and that prosodic phrase boundaries play a key role: variability in HVD looks qualitatively different for phrase-internal and phrase-final vowels, which are affected differently by word frequency, speech rate, and pause duration. We argue the results support an account of HVD as the result of two overlapping vowel devoicing processes, each widely-attested cross-linguistically: devoicing between voiceless consonants, and devoicing before prosodic phrase boundaries. Variability in the application of these two processes can then be partially explained in terms of aspects of phonetic implementation and processing: gestural overlap (Beckman 1996), which often plays a role in reduction processes, and the locality of production planning (Wagner 2012), a recent explanation for variability in the application of external sandhi processes.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Note that the literature refers to cases of non-application of Rule 1 either as “blocking” or “variability.” We use the term “variability” for any non-categorical application of Rule 1.

  2. 2.

    There is some debate over whether HVD should be described as “devoicing” or “deletion,” or whether both occur (see Fujimoto 2015, Sect. 4.4). This paper is agnostic to this issue, as we abstract away from the phonetic realization of the vowel and focus on the factors conditioning the probability of application of HVD. We follow Fujimoto (2015) and most previous work in referring to HVD as “devoicing,” for convenience.

  3. 3.

    Note that Varden (1998) interprets this result as a linear order effect, but due to his stimuli construction, linear order is not distinguishable from word boundaries.

  4. 4.

    Note that only post-lexical applications could apply across words; hence C̥\(\underline {~~~}\)# devoicing must result from postlexical rule application, while C̥\(\underline {~~~}\)C̥ devoicing could result from lexical or postlexical rule application.

  5. 5.

    A small part of the “Core” subset (∼ 5%) consists of (spontaneous) dialogues and read speech. We found that all results reported in this paper are qualitatively the same if the read speech data (3.3% of our dataset) is excluded. Thus, we report results without excluding this data, and interpret our findings as representative of spontaneous Standard Japanese.

  6. 6.

    Japanese has a phonological length distinction in vowels, and only phonologically short vowels are said to be affected by devoicing. This is corroborated by Maekawa and Kikuchi (2005) who found less than 0.5% of long high vowels and 1.2% of short non-high vowels were devoiced in the CSJ, compared to 24.3% of short high vowels.

  7. 7.

    Note that Intonation Phrase boundaries (BI 3) in this dataset include “utterance” boundaries as well as “intermediate phrase” boundaries, in the terminology of Beckman and Pierrehumbert (1988) (Igarashi et al. 2006:348).

  8. 8.

    Note that Japanese has moras which are not CV units (Labrune 2012), but only CV-type moras contain vowels in C̥\(\underline {~~~}\)# and C̥\(\underline {~~~}\)C̥ environments.

  9. 9.

    These were: all remaining tokens whose (collapsed) Break Index was not 1, 2, 3, or None followed by no physical pause.

  10. 10.

    The distribution is highly skewed because within-word environments always show no pause, and are much more frequent than cross-word environments. Thus, discretizing pause duration is necessitated by our focus on both devoicing environments and the intersection between them.

  11. 11.

    Such tokens exist in the corpus, but were excluded from analysis as they were determined to be mostly disfluencies.

  12. 12.

    We included only local speech rate in interactions, and not speaker speech rate, to limit model complexity, and since local speech rate corresponds more closely to measures of speech rate used in previous work on HVD (e.g. Kondo 1997).

  13. 13.

    Exploratory analysis suggested possible differences in the effect of pitch accents (H*), phrasal (H-) and boundary tone-associated H tones on devoicing rate, but due to the low number of tokens bearing a high tone in the dataset, these differences were collapsed into a single binary predictor of high tone presence.

  14. 14.

    It would have also been preferable to include by-word random effect terms corresponding to the fixed effects of interest for our research questions, e.g. for Break Index. Adding these terms resulted in unstable models, presumably due to the high number of word types relative to the size of the dataset; we thus did not include them in the final model.

  15. 15.

    The high standard errors of the <463 ms and >463 ms points, presumably due to the small number of phrase-internal tokens followed by appreciable pauses, prevent us from concluding there is an effect of increasing pause duration from medium to long pauses, in either direction.

  16. 16.

    The one exception is the presence of a high tone, confirming the intuition that this blocks devoicing for some speakers (Han 1962; Lovins 1976; Hirayama 2009; Nielsen 2015).

  17. 17.

    When no pause is present, in the left panel, there is an effect of voicing in the direction expected if both C̥\(\underline {~~~}\)C̥ and C̥\(\underline {~~~}\)# devoicing can apply before a voiceless segment but only C̥\(\underline {~~~}\)# can apply before a voiced segment.

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Acknowledgements

A preliminary version of this work was reported in Kilbourn-Ceron (2015). We thank audiences at LabPhon 14 and ICPhS 2015, Kuniko Nielsen, Hisako Noguchi, and James Tanner for feedback on this project; Michael Wagner, Heather Goad, three anonymous reviewers, and Rachel Walker for useful comments on manuscript drafts; and Michael McAuliffe for translation help. This work was supported by a SSHRC CGS Doctoral Scholarship (767-2012-1089) and CRBLM Graduate Scholar Stipend to Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron, and research grants from SSHRC (#430-2014-00018) and FRQSC (#183356) to Morgan Sonderegger.

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Appendix: Random effects

Appendix: Random effects

Predictor Variance Standard Deviation
Word   
(Intercept) 5.139 2.267
Speaker   
(Intercept) 0.769 0.877
Break Index   
1, 2, 3None 0.719 0.848
2, 31 1.447 1.203
32 1.467 1.211
Lexical frequency 0.042 0.205
Speech rate within utterance 0.000 0.000
Pause : Break Index   
No PausePause : 1, 2, 3None 3.441 1.855
No PausePause : 2, 31 8.697 2.949
No PausePause : 32 5.076 2.253
Short PauseMedium/Long Pause : 1, 2, 3None 2.924 1.710
Short PauseMedium/Long Pause : 2, 31 16.638 4.079
Short PauseMedium/Long Pause : 32 7.409 2.722
Medium PauseLong Pause : 1, 2, 3None 3.549 1.884
Break Index : Lexical Frequency   
1, 2, 3None : Lexical frequency 1.332 1.154
2, 31 : Lexical frequency 2.412 1.553
32 : Lexical frequency 10.890 3.300
Break Index : Speech rate within utterance   
1, 2, 3None : Speech Rate 0.623 0.789
2, 31 : Speech Rate 1.817 1.348
32 : Speech Rate 1.281 1.132

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Kilbourn-Ceron, O., Sonderegger, M. Boundary phenomena and variability in Japanese high vowel devoicing. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 36, 175–217 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-017-9368-x

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Keywords

  • Phonological variability
  • Prosodic boundaries
  • Corpus phonology
  • Vowel devoicing