In the first funding period of FOR 2373, parallel evidence from three corpus studies has shown that different types of word-final S in English (i.e. non-morphemic S vs. suffixal S vs. cliticised has/is) differ in their acoustic realization. These findings present an important challenge for theories of morphology-phonology interaction and for models of speech production as it is currently unclear how differences in morphological status are able to influence phonetic implementation. However, the surprising findings on this systematic variability S duration are in need of replication, and they raise further interesting questions concerning comprehension and learning.
The project will first test the robustness of the effects with a production study using wug stimuli in carefully controlled phonological and syntactic environments. We then turn to the question of whether the observed differences between different types of S are perceivable and are used in comprehension. This question will be tackled in further experiments using an ABX discrimination task, and two listener judgment tasks (using reaction times and mouse-tracking, respectively). The final research question concerns learning: Can acoustic differences be used by listeners to establish new representations? The answer to this question is also relevant for a fundamental problem in the study of language variation and change, that is, whether gradient acoustic detail can be used to morphologize a contrast, and whether (or how) phonetics and morphology are able to see each other in language development and sound change. To answer that question we will carry out a learning experiment with an artificial language in which we manipulate durational cues for suffixes.