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Articulatory Coordination and Syllable Structure in Italian


Anne Hermes

When we speak we do not articulate each sound one after the other like beads on a string. Instead, the movements of our articulators, such as the tongue and lips, overlap. These movements are coordinated in complex ways to produce syllables, words and phrases. This book is concerned with syllables. What is a syllable? There is general consensus that «sa», «pa» and «ra» are syllables. But what about «spa» or «spra»? The answer to this question is sought using a method investigating the coordination of tongue and lip movements. The results shed light on a long standing problem for syllable phonology in Italian, namely the syllabification of «s» when it occurs in a consonant cluster such as «sp» in «sport».


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1 Introduction


"Purely segmental descriptions fail to capture all the richness of the time- varying informational structure of speech."1 The present study aims to illuminate the syllabic status of word initial clusters on the basis of gestural coordination patterns. In the Articula- tory Phonology framework (Browman and Goldstein, 1986, 1988, 1992a, 2000), it is assumed that syllable structure is reflected in the coordination of articulatory gestures. A number of studies have shown that word ini- tial consonant clusters which form complex onsets show a different co- ordination pattern from those which do not. These studies have inves- tigated a range of languages which are independently known to have complex onsets (Browman and Goldstein, 1988 and Marin and Pouplier, 2010 for American English; (Goldstein et al., 2007 for Georgian; Marin, 2011 for Romanian) or only simple onsets (Goldstein et al., 2007 and Hermes et al., 2011 for Tashlhiyt Berber; Shaw et al., 2009 for Moroccan Arabic). The work here is focused on word initial clusters in Italian. In the phonol- ogy of this language, clusters such as /pr/ and /tr/ are uncontrover- sially analysed as complex onsets (e.g. - ’first’, - ’three’). By contrast, the status of clusters containing a sibilant (/s/ or /z/ among others) is highly controversial (e.g. - ’thorn’, - ’s/he un- threads’). The sibilant in these clusters is referred to as ’impure s’. There is morphological evidence for this analysis. For instance, the definite ar- ticle is ’lo’ when a sibilant cluster follows ( - ’the...

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