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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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6 Modelling Italian word initial clusters


6.1 Summary of results This section summarises the result on gestural coordination (chapter four) and on segmental duration as a reflex of this coordination (chap- ter five). On the basis of these results, we propose a coupled oscillator model. We have shown that in a CV syllable, i.e. in onset-nucleus relation, the consonantal and vocalic gestures start simultaneously. This means that both gestures are coupled in-phase. The findings support the coupling hypothesis of syllable structure, in that the underlying in-phase cou- pling is reflected in the articulatory timing of CV gestures. We have shown that this is true for all consonants in the simple onset condition. That is the sibilant in simple onset condition is no exception. This inves- tigation is a prerequisite to the study of word initial clusters. This study provides strong evidence that non-sibilant (CC) and sibilant clusters (SC) have distinct gestural coordination patterns. The kinematic variables investigated reflect this difference: V-TO-V ARTICULATION, C-CENTER VARIABLE, RIGHTMOST C TO V VARIABLE and LEFTMOST C TO V VARIABLE.46 The latter two measures can be subsumed under the LEFTWARD AND RIGHTWARD SHIFT of individual consonantal ges- tures. The STABILITY INDEX supports these analyses further: there is center-stability for non-sibilant clusters and right-edge stability for sibi- lant clusters. Figure 47 shows how the non-sibilant clusters /pr/ and /pl/ are ad- justed around the C-center, with the leftmost /p/ and the rightmost /r/ and /l/ being pulled apart (see top two rows). There is no such shift of the...

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