Colorado Research in Linguistics
Colorado Research in Linguistics -- ISSN 1937-7029

Vol 23.1 2012

Similarity and Enhancement: Nasality from Moroccan Arabic Pharyngeals and Nasals

Georgia Zellou 

PhD Thesis
Dr. Rebecca Scarborough, advisor

Experimental studies of the articulation, acoustics, and perception of nasal and pharyngeal consonants and adjacent vowels were conducted to investigate nasality in Moroccan Arabic (MA). The status of nasality in MA is described as coarticulatorily complex, where two phoneme types (pharyngeal segments and nasal segments) yield similar non-contrastive coarticulatory information (nasality) on adjacent vowels. The production and perception of the coarticulatory complexity of nasality in MA is the focus of this dissertation.

An aerodynamic study demonstrated that nasal airflow is reliably present during the production of pharyngeal consonants, yet to a degree less than nasal consonants. This study also indicated this nasality is coarticulated on vowels adjacent to pharyngeal and nasal consonants. An acoustic study confirmed the patterns of coarticulatory nasality from nasals and pharyngeals and explored how nasality as a coarticulatory complex feature, a feature associated with two distinct segment types, affects its patterning in the language.

This study reveals that vowel nasality is perceptually associated with pharyngeal, as well as nasal, consonants in MA, as evidenced by faster reaction times when vowel nasality was present in a lexical repetition task, compared to a condition where there was no vowel nasality, evidence that non-contrastive coarticulatory information is indeed perceptually informative not only in the context of phonologically nasal segments, but also in the context of pharyngeal consonants. Furthermore, there is evidence of perceptual compensation for nasality, wherein in the context of pharyngeal consonants listeners show patterns that suggest they do not “hear” vowel nasality but rather attribute it to its source. Together, this is evidence of partial compensation since listeners retain sensitivity to and facilitation from vowel nasality, revealed by faster response times in the lexical repetition task.

The results of the experiments outlined in this dissertation suggest 1) that nasality is a property of pharyngeal consonants and adjacent vowels that is highly controlled by speakers in order to maintain distinctiveness between pharyngeal and nasal consonant nasality and 2) that nasality is being utilized as a secondary, enhancement feature for pharyngeal consonants, potentially to maintain the distinctiveness of pharyngeal segments from the other guttural phonological class consonants in MA.

Georga Zellou is currently a visiting assistant professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at: Georgia.Weissman@Colorado.EDU.

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