The role of gesture delay in coda /r/ weakening : an articulatory, auditory and acoustic study

Lawson, Eleanor and Stuart-Smith, Jane and Scobbie, James M. (2018) The role of gesture delay in coda /r/ weakening : an articulatory, auditory and acoustic study. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 143 (3). pp. 1646-1657. ISSN 0001-4966 (

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The cross-linguistic tendency of coda consonants to weaken, vocalize, or be deleted is shown to have a phonetic basis, resulting from gesture reduction, or variation in gesture timing. This study investigates the effects of the timing of the anterior tongue gesture for coda /r/ on acoustics and perceived strength of rhoticity, making use of two sociolects of Central Scotland (working- and middle-class) where coda /r/ is weakening and strengthening, respectively. Previous articulatory analysis revealed a strong tendency for these sociolects to use different coda /r/ tongue configurations—working- and middle-class speakers tend to use tip/front raised and bunched variants, respectively; however, this finding does not explain working-class /r/ weakening. A correlational analysis in the current study showed a robust relationship between anterior lingual gesture timing, F3, and percept of rhoticity. A linear mixed effects regression analysis showed that both speaker social class and linguistic factors (word structure and the checked/unchecked status of the prerhotic vowel) had significant effects on tongue gesture timing and formant values. This study provides further evidence that gesture delay can be a phonetic mechanism for coda rhotic weakening and apparent loss, but social class emerges as the dominant factor driving lingual gesture timing variation.