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The organisation and structure of rhotics in American English rhymes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 September 2019

Rachel Walker*
University of Southern California
Michael Proctor*
Macquarie University


Language-specific maximal size restrictions on syllables have been defined using frames such as moraic structure. In General American English, a trimoraic syllable template makes largely successful predictions about contexts where tense/lax vowel contrasts are neutralised, but neutralisation preceding a coda rhotic has not been adequately explained. We attribute the apparent special properties of coda /ɹ/ to two characteristics of its representation, informed by our articulatory investigation: sequential coordination of dorsal and coronal subsegmental units and a high blending strength specification, corresponding to high coarticulatory dominance. Characteristics of coda laterals are compared. Our approach employs phonological representations where sequencing is encoded directly among subsegments, and coordination is sensitive to strength. Mora assignment is computed over sequencing of subsegments, predicting that complex segments may be bimoraic. The account brings phonotactics for rhymes with postvocalic liquids into line with the trimoraic template, and supports representing coordination and strength at the subsegmental level.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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For helpful discussion on various aspects of this research, we thank especially Louis Goldstein and Caitlin Smith, and also Dani Byrd, Lisa Davidson, Ewald Enzinger, Bruce Hayes, Khalil Iskarous, Shri Narayanan, Tünde Szalay and audiences at the 165th and 172nd meetings of the ASA, ICLCE 4, LabPhon 15, MIT, New York University, OCP 9, UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz, University of Melbourne, University of Toronto, University of Tromsø, joint USC/UCLA Phonology Seminar, USC PhonLunch, USC SPAN and MQ Phonetics groups. This work has also significantly benefited from comments from an anonymous associate editor at Phonology and three anonymous reviewers. This research has been supported in part by National Institutes of Health grant R01 DC007124, Australian Research Council Award DE150100318 and a USC Dornsife Faculty Development Grant.


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