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Vowel-lenition in Cypriot Greek and its implications for consonant-vowel coarticulation

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The study comprises an investigation of the phenomenon of vowel-lenition in Cypriot Greek (henceforth CG). The high vowels of Standard Greek, /i/ and /u/, tend to be lenited or elided when occurring in unstressed syllables and between voiceless consonants (Dauer 1980; Arvaniti 1991). Although vowel-lenition is claimed to be much rarer in CG (Arvaniti 1999), impressionistic evidence suggests that the process is common in CG as well. Foreign listeners claim, for instance, to hear only four syllables of an otherwise five-syllable word (e.g. ‘epitirisi’ (invigilation) heard as ‘epitiris’. Native listeners report hearing the vowels, so the study hypothesises that coarticulatory information is retained in the – now final – consonant to inform the listener as to the underlying presence of a vowel; thus, coarticulation might be a consequence of both an ease of production strategy and an ease of perception strategy. An experiment was designed in which the two high vowels were adjacent to the alveolar fricative /s/ and the alveolar stop /t/ in order to investigate the nature of vowel-lenition as a categorical or gradient process and to identify possible consonant-vowel coarticulatory strategies. Results show that vowel-lenition in CG is a gradient phenomenon, resulting in productions of full, lenited and elided vowels. Furthermore, consonants whose adjacent vowels have been elided are shown to differ from canonical word-final consonants through a series of acoustic measurements – such as fricative centre of gravity and F2 transition into a vowel, and stop duration and preceding vowel F2 transition – which suggest that traces of the vowel are always present in the consonant. Finally, it is suggested that there are two routes to reduction in CG; one involves a full consonant with a lenited vowel, and the other involves a lenited consonant with a full vowel, potentially signifying that the laryngeal setting is always the same but the different gestures are a result of supralaryngeal imprecision.

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