Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Voicing in Stop Consonants: Phonological Awareness

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Voicing in Stop Consonants: Phonological Awareness

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

IT IS COMMON PRACTICE in the instruction of lyric diction to use the contrast voiced / unvoiced to categorize the stop consonants of any given language. To be fair, most languages taught in diction courses contain a twofold series of stop consonants (/b/, /d/, /g/ vs /p/, /t/, /k/), and the labelling seems fitting. However, one of the most challenging features to carry out appropriately for American English (AE) singers learning repertoire in languages such as Italian or French is to articulate plosives without aspiration. Labial, alveolar, and velar stops always identify AE singers in virtually every language other than German and English.

More than fifty years ago, Lisker and Abramson published systematic research on Voice Onset Time (VOT).1 VOT is the interval between the release of the articulatory occlusion and the onset of voicing. It has a negative value if the onset of voicing precedes the release of the consonant, and a positive value when it happens after. According to the traditional categorization of VOT, most stop consonants fall into three types:

1. Voicing lead: the voicing starts 60 to 125 ms (milliseconds) prior to the release of the oral constriction (negative values). Italian and French voiced plosives belong to this type.

2. Short voicing lag: the voicing starts 0 to 30 ms (positive values) after the release of the oral constriction. Italian and French voiceless plosives, and English and German voiced plosives belong to this type.

3. Long voicing lag: the voicing starts 60 to 100 ms after the release of the oral constriction. English and German voiceless plosives belong to this type.

Some languages, such as Korean and Thai, have threefold realizations for their stop consonants, but the typical languages learned and taught in American colleges have a twofold structure. Lisker and Abramson describe two-way contrast languages as exclusively fitting one of two groups: either voicing lead VOTs /b/, /d/, and /g/ contrasting short-lag VOTs /p/, /t/, and /κ/ (Italian, French, Spanish, Russian); or short-lag VOTs /b/, /d/, and /g/ contrasting long-lag VOTs /p/, /t/, and /κ/ (English, German). In other words, in languages such as Italian the contrast is "between a series of prevoiced stops and a series of plain voiceless unaspirated stops."2 In languages such as English, the contrast is "between a series of plain voiceless unaspirated stops and a series of voiceless aspirated stops."3

A PASSIVE VOICE

Linguists have always agreed that the contrasting laryngeal feature for plosive consonants in Italian, French, Spanish, and Russian is indeed voicing (henceforth [voice], which is the standard way to mark the laryngeal phonological feature of voicing). In these languages, labelled "true voice," the voicing is "robust and continues uninterrupted until the release of the stop."4 However, the view that the same voicing feature governs the contrasting pairs of plosive consonants in English and German, as advocated by Keating (1984), Hall (1992), and Kingston and Diehl (1994),5 among others, has been contested by a growing number of linguists including Kohler (1984), Jessen (1989), Iverson and Salmons (1995), and Honeybone (2005).6 The innovative consensus is that the contrasting laryngeal feature for plosive consonants in such languages, labelled "aspirating," is the spreading of the glottis (henceforth [spread glottis], although the standard way to mark the laryngeal phonological feature of spread glottis is [SG]).7 This feature fittingly defines Mandarin, Cantonese, Danish, or Icelandic, all languages characterized with aspiration on all of their stop consonants, and which show no traces of voicing. But it does not seem as compatible with German and English.

Several studies (e.g., Jessen and Ringen 2002, Janson 2004, Beckman 2013)8 have shown that the so-called voiced plosive consonants of English and German are often voiceless in initial position, and partially voiceless in intervocalic position. …

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