LingLang Lunch (4/22/2015): Ryan Bennett (Yale University)

An ultrasound study of Irish palatalization

A core feature of the phonology of Irish is the distinction between palatalized /Cʲ/ (‘slender’) and velarized /Cˠ/ (‘broad’) consonants. Nearly every consonant in the language has both a palatalized and a velarized variant: this difference is phonemically contrastive (e.g. bád/bˠa:dˠ/ ‘boat (sg.)’ vs. báid /bˠa:dʲ/ ‘boat (pl.)’) and plays a major role in both morphological and phonological patterning. While the phonology of the /Cʲ/~/Cˠ/ distinction is fairly well-understood, the phonetics of this contrast—particularly the articulatory phonetics—remain somewhat obscure.

In this talk I present results from the first ultrasound study of Irish consonant production. This study is motivated by several outstanding questions in the study of the Irish consonant system. To what extent do the phonemic labels “palatalized” and “velarized” correspond to phonetic truths about the position of the tongue body during the production of these consonants? What factors condition contextual variation in the production of these consonant types? And what can Irish tell us about the relationship between phonological contrast and articulatory patterning?