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Phonetic Properties of Oneida Plosives

Tsan Huang (thuang3@buffalo.edu), Karin Michelson (kmich@buffalo.edu)


th
VII Annual Iroquoian Linguistic Workshop, August 2007

Theoretical background and findings: Phonetic implementation of plosive voicing is said to be constrained by a contrast along the VOT
dimension (Keating 1984). Oneida has only one series of plosives (i.e. no voicing contrast) and so one might predict that the plosives /t k/
should be free to employ the whole VOT (voice onset time) scale. This is supported by experimental data, using a Praat (Boersma 2001)
script1. A second script took measurements of lag VOT, voicing during closure (VDC), closure duration (CD). Median values in the different
phonetic environments were determined using Excel.

voiceless unaspirated voiced partially voiced, voiceless aspirated voiceless strongly aspirated
moderately aspirated
2
## V T(#) V V (#) V, R V(#) T V #V ## 3
Vh V V (÷) V V hV
VOT VDC CD VDC VOT VDC CD VDC VOT VDC CD VDC VOT VDC CD VDC VOT VDC CD VDC VOT VDC CD VDC
/CD /CD /CD /CD /CD /CD
/k/ 23 n/a n/a n/a 21 n/a 73 n/a 26 52 67 78% 51 71 116 61% 132 32 95 34% 150 n/a 114 n/a
/t/ 104 n/a n/a n/a 11 n/a 95 n/a 8 68 82 83% 38 43 99 43% 65 47 100 46% 175 n/a 150 n/a
Measurements in the table are in milliseconds.

Additional observations:
(1) VDC/CD % reflects the fact that universally voicing carries over from a vowel into a following consonant; so a consonant that is
partially voiced may still be considered voiceless if the VDC/CD ratio is relatively low. Note also that to English ears, aspirated plosives
(those with a relatively long lag VOT) will sound voiceless, since aspiration is a cue for voiceless consonants in English.
(2) Overall, /t/ is more voiced than /k/.
(3) Even voiced allophones show a measurable lag VOT.
(4) The environment V (#)n (which is not in the table) is interesting in that the word boundary makes a difference. In /Vkn/, the /k/ is
always voiced (84%, VOT =24msec, CD=74msec). In /Vk#n/, the /k/ is less voiced with perceptible aspiration (55.5%, VOT=65msec,
CD=108msec). In both cases, some examples have a short epenthetic vowel.

1
We are grateful to Jenn Cornish and Kevin (Cornish) for writing the scripts. Aelish Hart, Ann Olivo, and Daniel Reynolds initially segmented and tagged the sound
files. This is a preliminary study based on recordings of 500 Oneida utterances, most of which were repeated twice, by two speakers, Mercy Doxtator and Norma
Jamieson, whose participation we gratefully acknowledge. The study began as a senior tutorial, supervised by Tsan Huang, for undergraduate students (the three named
above) to give them the opportunity to gain additional expertise in instrumental acoustic phonetics. The measurements given in the table are for Mercy Doxtator.
2
When the vowel that precedes the plosive is /a/ or /o/, the vowel has breathy voice; consequently overall the numbers do not fit well with the more general pattern that
/t/ is more voiced than /k/.
3
In absolute final position after vowels, the plosives show some voicing (carried over from the preceding vowel) while after obstruents, plosives are completely
unvoiced.
4
Eight of the 53 occurrences of /t/ in absolute initial position are voiced, and the measurements for the voiced variants are VOT=11msec, VDC=122msec, CD=138msec,
and %voice is 89%.