Beyond VOT – searching for realism in laryngeal phonology

Conveners: Geoff Schwartz (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań) and Eugeniusz Cyran (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin)

Session Call deadline: 24 April 2017

Since Lisker & Abramson (1964), Voice Onset Time (VOT) has been the standard for describing the phonetic realization of laryngeal contrasts in initial stops. As an easily measurable phonetic property that appears to show categorical behavior, VOT has become ubiquitous in empirical studies related to laryngeal phonology, including cross-language comparisons, L2 acquisition studies, as well as research on multi-lingualism. It has even been established as the basis for a theory calling itself 'laryngeal realism' (Honeybone 2005; Beckman et al. 2013), which argues for unary specification for laryngeal features.

Laryngeal realism in turn has gained widespread acceptance in recent decades, since it appears to offer a straightforward link between phonological categories and their phonetic realization. However, it is not difficult to identify chinks in the armor of both laryngeal realism and VOT. Phoneticians have long been aware of a large number of other cues to voice contrasts, which only infrequently find their way into phonological descriptions. Many of these cues show behavior that is just as categorical as VOT. In addition, it is not difficult to identify cases in which the predictions of laryngeal realism are not borne out, such as phonologically active voicelessness in true-voice languages (Rubach 1996; Wetzels & Mascaró 2001; Cyran 2014).

In this session, we will reconsider the links between phonological laryngeal specifications and their phonetic realization. We are looking in particular for contributions that seek to relate phonetic data to phonological specifications, either by way of experimental study, or through formal analyses that facilitate the formulation of new hypotheses for phonetic research.

Possible questions for investigation may include the following:

  • How 'primary' is VOT cross-linguistically as a perceptual cue?
  • How do cross-linguistic VOT patterns relate to the use of other cues?
  • To what extent is it feasible to merge specifications for voicing, tone, airstream mechanisms and phonation types?
  • Why don't languages contrast different categories of negative VOT?
  • Is it possible to provide a phonological account of laryngeal patterns without invoking markedness? Is this a desirable goal?
  • Is it possible to reconcile the appeal of laryngeal realism in capturing the VOT typology with the evidence that voiceless is phonologically active in true-voice languages?


Selected References:

Beckman, J., M. Essen & C. Ringen (2013). Evidence for laryngeal features: aspirating vs. true-voice languages. Journal of Linguistics 49(2), 259–284.
Cyran, E. (2014). Between phonology and Phonetics – Polish Voicing. Berlin: Mouton.
Honeybone, P (2005). Diachronic evidence in segmental phonology: the case of obstruent laryngeal specifications. In van Oostendorp, M. and van de Weijer, J. (eds) The Internal Organization of Phonological Segments. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 319–354.
Lisker, L. & A. Abramson (1964). A cross-language study of voicing in initial stops: Acoustical measurements. Word 20, 384–422.
Rubach, J. (1996). Non-syllabic analysis of voice assimilation in Polish. Linguistic Inquiry 27, 69–110.
Wetzels, D., J. Mascaró. (2001). The typology of voicing and devoicing. Language 77 (2), 207–244.