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Correct /s/

From:Mark Jones <markjjones@...>
Date:Thursday, July 12, 2007, 7:19
The idea that there is a single 'correct' articulation of any sound for a
given language is a misnomer - when instrumental studies are done, huge
amounts of individual variation are found. This is particularly
understandable in the case of fricatives like /s/, where differences in
vocal tract geometry (height of the palatal arch, gradient of the alveolar
ridge, dentition) have a huge impact on the generation of turbulence.
Sometimes the effects are gross enough to result in qualitatively different
articulations as we classify them using e.g. IPA symbols, but variation
across speakers (and within speakers across contexts) is the norm.

Research carried out on American English and Parisian French by Sarah N.
Dart at UCLA in the 90's demonstrated that only around half the English
speakers had the expected alveolar /t/, and a similar proportion of French
speakers had the expected dental /t/. The fricatives were more constrained
but there were differences there too, and, as research on Swedish has also
shown, some speakers have a different articulation in /t/ from /d/, not just
a voicing difference (though there are aerodynamic reasons why you might
have a different place in /t/ and /d/ which are to do with voicing).



Mark J. Jones
British Academy Post-doctoral Research Fellow
Department of Linguistics
University of Cambridge

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