Voice-induced vowel lengthening

Tobias Scheer (Author)


Vowels are longer before sonorants and voiced obstruents than before voiceless obstruents. This pattern is found in many languages and by some is argued to be universal. In some languages it has been phonologized and gives rise to alternations. Three cases are examined: Western Slavic, English and German. In all cases, I argue that the mechanism which modifies vowel duration in a voiced context is phonetic in kind (not phonological), and involves voice-induced lengthening, rather than so-called ‘pre-fortis clipping’. Phonetic length can be phonologized by its inscription into the lexical recording of morphemes. Phonological processes such as (Canadian) raising in English or oo > uu raising in Western Slavic may then take this lexical length as an input. This analysis allows us to keep spontaneous and non-spontaneous voicing truly separate: voicing in sonorants and vowels is never phonologically active, its spreading can only occur in the phonetics (‘passive voicing’ in Laryngeal Realism). A strong argument in favour of this view is the fact that cross-linguistically sonorants appear to always be among the triggers of voice-induced vowel lengthening: there are no cases where vowels lengthen before voiced obstruents, but not before sonorants. This is predicted if lengthening is phonetic, but unexpected if it were phonological: the phonologically active voicing of obstruents should at least sometimes be the only trigger.