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  • Cited by 53
  • Print publication year: 1990
  • Online publication date: February 2010

9 - Lengthenings and shortenings and the nature of prosodic constituency



There are two durational effects often cited as evidence for very different models of prosodic constituency in English. The first is known variously as “final lengthening,” “pre-boundary lengthening,” or “pre-pausal lengthening” (e.g. Oiler 1973; Klatt 1975; Cooper and Paccia-Cooper 1980). As the last name suggests, this effect is usually interpreted as a durational correlate of the sort of disjuncture that can cause a momentary cessation of speech. The second durational effect has no similar unified set of labels, but it might be called “stresstimed shortening” since it belongs to a class of effects that have been interpreted as indications of a tendency toward isochronous spacing of prosodically strong syllables; a stressed syllable in a polysyllabic word or stress foot is compressed in order to make the overall duration of its word or stress foot closer to that of a contrasting monosyllable (e.g. Huggins 1975; Fowler 1977).

The two effects are similar in that both involve an apparent adjustment of syllable durations which is dependent on some notion of constituency. In the first case, a syllable is lengthened because of its position near to the edge of some constituent, and in the second it is shortened because of the length of a constituent defined by adjacent peaks at some prosodic level. The two effects differ radically, however, in the type of constituency that is implicit in their interpretations. Final lengthening implies a constituent that has well-defined edges; the lengthening occurs before a boundary that could be followed by a pause. But this constituent need not have a phonological head; its internal prosodic structure could be completely flat.