LingLang Lunch (2/28/2018): Roey Gafter (Ben Gurion University)

Roey Gafter’s main research focuses on sociolinguistic variation in Modern Hebrew, and its wider implications for sociolinguistic theory. For more information, his website is here.

Pharyngeals and beyond: phonetic differences and phonemic mergers in Hebrew

In the speech of most current Hebrew speakers, the phonemic distinction between pharyngeal and non-pharyngeal consonants has been neutralized towards a non-pharyngeal realization. Although this phonemic merger is a well-studied phenomenon, little attention has been given so far to the possibility of phonetic variation beyond a binary distinction between pharyngeal and non-pharyngeal forms. In this talk, I focus on the voiceless pharyngeal fricative [ħ], and demonstrate that the non-pharyngeal realization varies between a fricative and a trill. A phonetic analysis of data from sociolinguistic interviews conducted in two field sites in Israel reveals that the rate of trilling varies among speakers, and is sensitive to both social and linguistic factors. Speakers who do not produce pharyngeals are found to use the trill variant more frequently, but only in one of the two communities studied, in which the overall loss of the pharyngeals is considerably more advanced. I discuss the implications of these findings for understanding the mechanisms underlying the ongoing phonemic merger between pharyngeals and non-pharyngeals.