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F2 slope as a perceptual cue for the front-back contrast in Standard Southern British English

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  • Kateřina Chládková
  • Silke Hamann
  • Daniel Williams
  • Sam Hellmuth


Publication details

JournalLanguage and Speech
DateAccepted/In press - 30 Apr 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 30 May 2016
DatePublished (current) - 1 Sep 2017
Number of pages32
Early online date30/05/16
Original languageEnglish


Acoustic studies of several languages indicate that second-formant (F2) slopes in high vowels have opposing directions (independent of consonantal context): front [iː]-like vowels are produced with a rising F2 slope while back [uː]-like vowels are produced with a falling F2 slope. The present study first reports acoustic measurements that confirm this pattern for the English variety of Standard Southern British English (SSBE), where /uː/ has shifted from the back to the front area of the vowel space and is now realized with higher midpoint F2 values than several decades ago. Subsequently, we test whether the direction of F2 slope also serves as a reliable cue to the /iː/-/uː/ contrast in perception. The findings show that F2 slope direction is used as a cue (additional to midpoint formant values) to distinguish /iː/ from /uː/ by both young and older SSBE listeners: an otherwise ambiguous token is identified as /iː/ if it has a rising F2 slope and as /uː/ if it has a falling F2 slope. Furthermore, our results indicate that listeners generalize their reliance on F2 slope to other contrasts, namely /ɛ/-/ɒ/ and /æ/-/ɒ/, even though F2 slope is not employed to differentiate these vowels in production. This suggests that in SSBE, a rising F2 seems to be perceptually associated with an abstract feature such as [+front] while a falling F2 with an abstract feature such as [-front].

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© The Author(s), 2016. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details

    Research areas

  • vowel perception, Standard Southern British English, front-back contrast

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