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Production and perception of phonemic vowel duration in French Duncan, Elizabeth D.

Abstract

The present study consists of two experiments which examine the use of Vowel duration in French in such word pairs as "maître:mettre" and "pâte:patte". The first experiment examines the use of vowel duration from the point of view of production. Subjects recorded sentences containing the words under study both in (unemphatically) stressed and unstressed position. Significant differences in vowel duration were found between the "long" and the "short" members of the pairs. No significant differences in vowel duration were found between the /ɑ:/:/a/ "long"."short" vowel ratios and the /ε:/:/ε/ vowel ratios. Vowel ratios were slightly smaller when words appeared in unstressed position than in stressed position but these differences were not found to be significant. Speakers from the Midi were observed to make the length distinction less frequently than speakers from other areas. The second experiment examines the use of vowel duration by the same group of native speakers in distinguishing perceptually between members of such pairs as those mentioned above. Using a small computer, vowels of the "long" and "short" members of a pair were shortened and lengthened respectively in steps of approximately 16 msec. Subjects were asked to assign a lexical value to the stimuli so obtained. Subjects' responses were found to be influenced by shifts in vowel duration. Lengthening the "short" vowel had a greater effect in reversing listener judgment of the word than did shortening the "long" vowel. When members of a pair were accompanied by a marked difference in vowel quality, shortening the "long" vowel had relatively little effect on the listeners' judgment of the word. It thus appears that for the group of speaker/listeners selected, length does play a role in distinguishing, both productively and perceptually, between such pairs as "maître:mettre" and "pâte:patte".

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