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The articulation of /ɹ/ in New Zealand English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2018

Matthias Heyne
New Zealand Institute of Language Brain and Behaviour, University of Canterbury & Department of Linguistics, University of
Xuan Wang
New Zealand Institute of Language Brain and Behaviour, University of Canterbury & Department of Linguistics, University of
Donald Derrick
New Zealand Institute of Language Brain and Behaviour, University of Canterbury & The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney
Kieran Dorreen
New Zealand Institute of Language Brain and Behaviour, University of Canterbury & Department of Linguistics, University of
Kevin Watson
New Zealand Institute of Language Brain and Behaviour, University of Canterbury & Department of Linguistics, University of


This paper investigates the articulation of approximant /ɹ/ in New Zealand English (NZE), and tests whether the patterns documented for rhotic varieties of English hold in a non-rhotic dialect. Midsagittal ultrasound data for 62 speakers producing 13 tokens of /ɹ/ in various phonetic environments were categorized according to the taxonomy by Delattre & Freeman (1968), and semi-automatically traced and quantified using the AAA software (Articulate Instruments Ltd. 2012) and a Modified Curvature Index (MCI; Dawson, Tiede & Whalen 2016). Twenty-five NZE speakers produced tip-down /ɹ/ exclusively, 12 tip-up /ɹ/ exclusively, and 25 produced both, partially depending on context. Those speakers who produced both variants used the most tip-down /ɹ/ in front vowel contexts, the most tip-up /ɹ/ in back vowel contexts, and varying rates in low central vowel contexts. The NZE speakers produced tip-up /ɹ/ most often in word-initial position, followed by intervocalic, then coronal, and least often in velar contexts. The results indicate that the allophonic variation patterns of /ɹ/ in NZE are similar to those of American English (Mielke, Baker & Archangeli 2010, 2016). We show that MCI values can be used to facilitate /ɹ/ gesture classification; linear mixed-effects models fit on the MCI values of manually categorized tongue contours show significant differences between all but two of Delattre & Freeman's (1968) tongue types. Overall, the results support theories of modular speech motor control with articulation strategies evolving from local rather than global optimization processes, and a mechanical model of rhotic variation (see Stavness et al. 2012).

Research Article
© International Phonetic Association 2018

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