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Title: An auditory and acoustic study of liquids in Malayalam
Authors: Punnoose, Reenu
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis aims to describe the auditory and acoustic characteristics of the rhotics in Malayalam. There is disagreement in the limited literature that exists on the language regarding the manner of articulation of the rhotics. Some refer to them as one tap and one trill (Kumari, 1972) while others describe both as trills differing slightly in place of articulation (Ladefoged and Maddieson, 1996; Srikumar and Reddy, 1988). The two rhotics are lexically contrastive, e.g. /kaɾi/ soot -/kari/ curry. One of the objectives of the present study is to describe the phonetic characteristics of the two rhotics and the contrast maintenance strategies used by speakers to distinguish between them. Apart from the two uncontested rhotics, there is a fifth liquid, an allegedly similar sound in Tamil and Malayalam that has previously been referred to as being a rhotic by some (Asher and Kumari, 1997; Krishnamurti, 2003, 152) and a lateral by others (Kumari, 1972). Recent studies on Tamil liquids (McDonough and Johnson, 1997; Narayanan et al. 1999) have described the fifth liquid as being a retroflex central approximant, i.e. another rhotic. The second objective of this study is to explore the possibility of the fifth liquid being a third rhotic in Malayalam. Eight male speakers were recorded reading out words, containing at least one of the five liquids in all permissible word-positions, in a carrier phrase. Results of the auditory and acoustic analyses showed that the two rhotics differed mainly in their tongue configurations (laminal and advanced vs. apical and retracted), resonance characteristics (clear vs. dark) and surrounding vowel quality (advanced and closer vs. retracted and open). F2 was found to be the most robust distinguishing acoustic cue. Manner of articulation varied for the apical rhotic from trill to tap to approximant across speakers and depending on word-position while the laminal rhotic was always realised as a tap. Duration was not found to be a robust cue in distinguishing between the two rhotics. The fifth liquid appears to be a clear post-alveolar approximant phonetically while functioning as a retroflex approximant from a phonological point of view. The lack of traditional phonetic cues separating the tap and trill segments in Malayalam highlights the importance of looking at non-segmental long-domain effects for the realisation of their clear (tap) and dark (trill) resonance, which was found to be more important than the actual manner of articulation and temporal cues. This, together with the discrepancy in the phonetic and phonological behaviour of the fifth liquid, suggests that phonetics and phonology share a „partly absolute-partly relative relationship‟ and supports the notion of an Extrinsic Phonetic Interpretation (EPI), which seems to better account for the paradox surrounding the phonologically unified yet phonetically asymmetric class of rhotics.
Description: Phd Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

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