Morrison in JIPA

Posted on January 11, 2022 by

It’s a great start of the year for LEL’s Donald Morrison whose paper has just appeared in Journal of the International Phonetic Association.

The paper, titled “Vowel allophony in Ness Gaelic: Phonetic and phonological patterns of laxing and retraction”, documents a number of phonological processes affecting the vowels in the dialect of Scottish Gaelic spoken in Ness, Lewis. Combining fieldwork, instrumental analysis and good old-fashioned phonology, Donald captures an exciting moment in time for Ness Gaelic, as some vowel-related processes move up from the phonetic to phonological grammar. The abstract is below. The paper is available here. The pleasing scenery of Lewis in the featured photo is courtesy of Donald.

The vowel system of the dialect of Scottish Gaelic spoken in Ness, Lewis differs from that of other dialects in several important ways. In particular, several vowels display patterns of allophony that have not been investigated instrumentally and, in some cases, have not been reported before for Scottish Gaelic. This paper documents the Ness system in detail, focusing in particular on the tense–lax opposition in /i e/ and retraction of /a(ː)/ next to velarised consonants. The results of a traditional linguistic fieldwork study are presented first, followed by a detailed acoustic study of nine speakers. The acoustic reality of these allophonic patterns, reflected in F1 and F2 values, is verified statistically using LME modelling. Bimodality in the distribution of tokens in acoustic space, confirmed statistically with Hartigan’s Dip Test, is taken as evidence for the existence of discrete phonological categories (Bermúdez-Otero & Trousdale 2011). It is found that speakers vary as to whether these allophonic oppositions are restricted to the phonetic grammar, or have undergone STABILISATION and advanced into the categorical phonology (Bermúdez-Otero 20072015). It is observed that laxing of /i e/ in Ness Gaelic occurs in exactly those contexts where there is a direct transition between the vowel and a following supra-glottal consonant. It is therefore proposed that this tense–lax opposition is grounded in conflicting strategies of contrast enhancement, whereby laxing increases the perceptual distinctiveness of a following consonant by allowing for more distinctive formant transitions, at the expense of the distinctiveness of the vowel itself (Storme 2019).