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Geminated Liquids in Japanese: A production study


While the Japanese language makes use of consonant length contrast abundantly, liquid geminates are disfavored. The status of geminated liquids in Japanese is marginal, only appearing in particular loanwords and through emphatic gemination. However, to the extent that they are attested, geminated liquids in Japanese offer a unique window into the abstract representation of geminates and liquids in general.

The foremost goal of this dissertation is to fill the gap in the literature by providing a detailed documentation of the production of geminated liquids in Japanese. Based on the results of an experiment using EMA (electromagnetic articulography), I report the acoustic and articulatory characteristics of geminated liquids in Japanese, focusing on the variability and similarity across productions.

The acoustic results indicate that while the local durational correlates for geminated liquids are quite variable, their durational contrast with singletons is strikingly robust and similar to that of more established geminates at a global level. Furthermore, while the non-durational acoustic correlates exhibit a wide range of inter- and intra-speaker variability, all the productions of geminated liquids demonstrate prolonged duration and high sonority in one way or another.

The articulatory results suggest that liquids in Japanese are gesturally complex, as has been pointed out for other languages. Singleton and geminate liquids can be characterized with a rising tongue tip gesture and relatively retracted tongue body. Otherwise, speakers use variable strategies to produce liquids, with lateral and retroflex flavors. Results also show that liquids take up a lateral flavor of production in high-vowel environments, consistent with previous claims that rhotics are incompatible with palatalization. They also show that speakers and productions vary in terms of the gestural timing to lengthen liquids, suggesting multiple gestural strategies for the process of gemination.

The acoustic and articulatory variability demonstrated in the results are consistent with the view that Japanese liquid /r/ is highly underspecified. An alternative explanation appealing to the marginal status of geminated liquids is discussed. The acoustic and articulatory results, taken together, also suggest that the production of geminates is governed by acoustic targets rather than a universal gestural target shared by all speakers.

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