Covert contrast and covert error in persistent velar fronting

Cleland, Joanne and Scobbie, James M. and Heyde, Cornelia and Roxburgh, Zoe and Wrench, Alan A. (2016) Covert contrast and covert error in persistent velar fronting. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics. pp. 1-21. ISSN 0269-9206 (

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Acoustic and articulatory studies demonstrate covert contrast in perceptually neutralised phonemic contrasts in both typical children and children with speech disorders. These covert contrasts are thought to be relatively common and symptomatic of phonetic speech disorders. However, clinicians in the speech therapy clinic have had no easy way of identifying this covertness. This study uses ultrasound tongue imaging to compare tongue contours for /t/ and /k/ in seven children with persistent velar fronting. We present a method of overlaying tongue contours to identify covert contrast at the articulatory level. Results show that all seven children, contrary to expectations, produced both /t/ and /k/ with near-identical tongue shapes showing no evidence of covert contrast. However, further analysis of one of the participants showed highly variable tongue shapes for /t/ and /k/, including retroflex productions of both. Although not phonologically conditioned, this covert error is evidence of speech disorder at the phonetic level.