new paper in Laboratory Phonology

New paper published open access in:  Laboratory Phonology: Journal of the Association for Laboratory PhonologyThe full text can be accessed through the DOI at the citation listed below.

Title: Resilience of English vowel perception across regional accent variation

Abstract: In two categorization experiments using phonotactically legal nonce words, we tested Australian English listeners’ perception of all vowels in their own accent as well as in four less familiar regional varieties of English which differ in how their vowel realizations diverge from Australian English: London, Yorkshire, Newcastle (UK), and New Zealand. Results of Experiment 1 indicated that amongst the vowel differences described in sociophonetic studies and attested in our stimulus materials, only a small subset caused greater perceptual difficulty for Australian listeners than for the corresponding Australian English vowels. We discuss this perceptual tolerance for vowel variation in terms of how perceptual assimilation of phonetic details into abstract vowel categories may contribute to recognizing words across variable pronunciations. Experiment 2 determined whether short-term multi-talker exposure would facilitate accent adaptation, particularly for those vowels that proved more difficult to categorize in Experiment 1. For each accent separately, participants listened to a pre-test passage in the nonce word accent but told by novel talkers before completing the same task as in Experiment 1. In contrast to previous studies showing rapid adaptation to talker-specific variation, our listeners’ subsequent vowel assimilations were largely unaffected by exposure to other talkers’ accent-specific variation.

How to Cite: Shaw, J. A., Best, C. T., Docherty, G., Evans, B. G., Foulkes, P., Hay, J., & Mulak, K. E. (2018). Resilience of English vowel perception across regional accent variation. Laboratory Phonology: Journal of the Association for Laboratory Phonology,9(1), 11. DOI:

new paper in Language and Speech

A new paper, ”Effects of Suprisal and Entropy on vowel duration in Japanese”, is now available online at Language and Speech. The abstract and full citation are below.

Abstract: Research on English and other languages has shown that syllables and words that contain more information tend to be produced with longer duration. This research is evolving into a general thesis that speakers articulate linguistic units with more information more robustly. While this hypothesis seems plausible from the perspective of communicative efficiency, previous support for it has come mainly from English and some other Indo-European languages. Moreover, most previous studies focus on global effects, such as the interaction of word duration and sentential/semantic predictability. The current study is focused at the level of phonotactics, exploring the effects of local predictability on vowel duration in Japanese, using the Corpus of Spontaneous Japanese. To examine gradient consonant-vowel phonotactics within a consonant-vowel-mora, consonant-conditioned Surprisal and Shannon Entropy were calculated, and their effects on vowel duration were examined, together with other linguistic factors that are known from previous research to affect vowel duration. Results show significant effects of both Surprisal and Entropy, as well as notable interactions with vowel length and vowel quality. The effect of Entropy is stronger on peripheral vowels than on central vowels. Surprisal has a stronger positive effect on short vowels than on long vowels. We interpret the main patterns and the interactions by conceptualizing Surprisal as an index of motor fluency and Entropy as an index of competition in vowel selection.

Citation: Shaw, J. A., & Kawahara, S. (2017). Effects of Surprisal and Entropy on vowel duration in Japanese. Language and speech, 0023830917737331, 1-35. pdf

new JPhon paper

“The lingual articulation of devoiced/u/in Tokyo Japanese” is now available online at Journal of Phonetics and slated to appear in the January 2018 issue. Abstract and full citation are below:

In Tokyo Japanese, /u/ is typically devoiced between two voiceless consonants. Whether the lingual vowel gesture is influenced by devoicing or present at all in devoiced vowels remains an open debate, largely because relevant articulatory data has not been available. We report ElectroMagnetic Articulography (EMA) data that addresses this question. We analyzed both the trajectory of the tongue dorsum across VC1uC2V sequences as well as the timing of C1 and C2. These analyses provide converging evidence that /u/ in devoicing contexts is optionally targetless—the lingual gesture is either categorically present or absent but seldom reduced. When present, the magnitude of the lingual gesture in devoiced /u/ is comparable to voiced vowel counterparts. Although all speakers produced words with and without a vowel height target for /u/, the frequency of targetlessness varied across speakers and items. The timing between C1 and C2, the consonants flanking /u/ was also effected by devoicing but to varying degrees across items. The items with the greatest effect of devoicing on this inter-consonantal interval were also the items with the highest frequency of vowel height targetlessness for devoiced /u/.

Shaw, J. A., & Kawahara, S. (2018). The lingual articulation of devoiced/u/in Tokyo Japanese. Journal of Phonetics66, 100-119.



AMP talk

I gave a talk (with Shigeto Kawahara) at the Annual Meeting on Phonology at New York University entitled “Consequences of high vowel deletion for syllabification in Japanese” The abstract is available here.

new JASA paper

Our paper, A comparison of acoustic and articulatory methods for analyzing vowel differences across dialects: Data from American and Australian Englishappeared as part of the special issue of The Journal of Acoustical Society of America focused on Advancing Methods for Analyzing Dialect Variation. Cynthia Clopper’s introduction to the special issue is available here. Ours was one of a handful of contributions to the special issue arguing for the importance of articulatory data in interpreting differences in formant values across dialects.

Abstract: In studies of dialect variation, the articulatory nature of vowels is sometimes inferred from formant values using the following heuristic: F1 is inversely correlated with tongue height and F2 is inversely correlated with tongue backness. This study compared vowel formants and corresponding lingual articulation in two dialects of English, standard North American English, and Australian English. Five speakers of North American English and four speakers of Australian English were recorded producing multiple repetitions of ten monophthongs embedded in the /sVd/ context. Simultaneous articulatory data were collected using electromagnetic articulography. Results show that there are significant correlations between tongue position and formants in the direction predicted by the heuristic but also that the relations implied by the heuristic break down under specific conditions. Articulatory vowel spaces, based on tongue dorsum position, and acoustic vowel spaces, based on formants, show systematic misalignment due in part to the influence of other articulatory factors, including lip rounding and tongue curvature on formant values. Incorporating these dimensions into dialect comparison yields a richer description and a more robust understanding of how vowel formant patterns are reproduced within and across dialects.

Blackwood-Ximenes, A., J.A. Shaw, C. Carignan. 2017. A comparison of acoustic and articulatory methods for analyzing vowel differences across dialects: Data from American and Australian English. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 142, 363-377; doi:

presentation at CLS Workshop on Dynamic Modeling in Phonetics and Phonology

Abstract for my poster (with Shigeto Kawahara) at the Chicago Linguistic Society Workshop on Dynamic Modeling in Phonetics and Phonology coming up on May 24th:

Modelling articulatory dynamics in the frequency domain

We explore a new approach to modelling articulatory dynamics in terms of frequency components. Our data comes from fleshpoint tracking using Electromagnetic Articulography. Using Discrete Cosine Transform (DCT), we decomposed tongue dorsum movement trajectories over VCu̥CV and VCuCV sequences in Japanese into cosine components of differing frequency and amplitude. We demonstrate that four such components represent the signal with high precision. Making use of these compact representations, we evaluate whether the devoiced vowel in Japanese is specified for a lingual articulatory gesture or whether it is targetless. We evaluated these competing hypotheses through simulation. Tongue dorsum trajectories were simulated from DCT components with either zero amplitude for the frequency component corresponding to [u̥] or with the amplitude for this component found for the voiced counterpart [u]. The simulated data were then used to classify the experimental data. On a token-by-token basis, we assessed the posterior probability of a lingual gesture for [u̥]. Results revealed that, under some conditions, Japanese speakers produce transitions between consonants without an intervening vowel. More broadly, we see promise in using frequency spaces to link low dimensional phonological hypothesis to time-dependent articulatory data.

Stony Brook colloquium Feb 24th

Title and abstract of Stony Brook talk (Friday, Feb 24):

Linking phonology and phonetics in the frequency domain

Attempts to link phonetic and phonological form face two fundamental challenges. The first is the constancy-variability problem: (1) how to capture the range of phonetic actuations of a constant phonological form. The second is the fidelity problem: (2) how low fidelity phonological forms map to high fidelity phonetic forms. In this talk, we present an integrated approach to these problems. The core innovation is a transformation of high fidelity phonetic data into a low fidelity frequency domain (cosine components). Using Discrete Cosine Transform (DCT), we express continuous movement of the tongue as a small number of frequency modulations that map to phonologically-specified vocal tract constrictions while effectively preserving fine phonetic detail, i.e., ms to ms changes in spatial position over time. DCT addresses the fidelity problem. To address the constancy-variability problem we apply stochastic sampling techniques from the micro-prosody literature (e.g., Shaw & Davidson, 2011; Shaw, Gafos, Hoole, & Zeroual, 2011; Shaw & Gafos, 2015; Shaw, Gafos, Hoole, & Zeroual, 2009) to frequency components, effectively transforming phonological hypotheses into the (realistically variable) physical dimensions of phonetic form.

To demonstrate the approach, we take up the issue of phonetic underspecification (e.g., Archangeli, 1988; Keating, 1988)—or in more neutral terms, apparent phonetic targetlessness—asking whether the phonetic signal provides evidence for the presence/absence of a phonological feature. The crux of phonetic arguments for targetlessness is often linear interpolation between flanking segments. Consider a phonological sequence ABC, where the feature specification of B is in question. Whether observed in the domain of intonation (Pierrehumbert & Beckman, 1988: 37-38), vowels (Browman & Goldstein, 1992; Lammert, Goldstein, Ramanarayanan, & Narayanan, 2014), or consonants (Cohn, 1993; Keating, 1988) “linear interpolation” on the relevant phonetic dimension between A and C constitutes an argument for the targetlessness of B. But how linear is linear? Rigorous assessment of linear interpolation faces both the constancy-variability problem and fidelity problem. How do we decide whether observed deviation from linearity is not simply noisy actuation of a linear trajectory? More specifically, taking the case of ABC again, how do we distinguish complete targetlessness of B from (heavy) reduction of B? How do we know that B is truly targetless rather than just heavily susceptible to coarticulation with surrounding segments (c.f.,Recasens & Espinosa, 2009)? We demonstrate how transformations to frequency space bring clarity to these issues, revealing phonological patterns in variable phonetic data.

The empirical domain of our demonstration is high vowel devoicing in Japanese. A classic description of the facts is that high vowels are devoiced between two voiceless consonants and after a voiceless consonant before a pause but there is a debate about whether vowels are phonologically deleted, i.e., “targetless”, or merely devoiced (for a recent and comprehensive review, see Fujimoto, 2015). To resolve this issue, we collected Electromagnetic Articulography data on the trajectory of tongue movements during voiced and voiceless vowel productions from six speakers of Tokyo Japanese. Analysed within the computational framework described above, these data provide a clear answer while elucidating some previously unknown phonological conditions under which devoiced vowels lack lingual articulatory targets.


Archangeli, D. (1988). Aspects of underspecification theory. Phonology, 5, 183-208.

Browman, & Goldstein, L. (1992). ‘Targetless’ schwa: An articulatory analysis. In G. Docherty & R. Ladd (Eds.), Papers in Laboratory Phonology II: Gesture, Segment, Prosody (pp. 26-56). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cohn, A. C. (1993). Nasalisation in English: phonology or phonetics. Phonology, 10(01), 43-81.

Fujimoto, M. (2015). Chapter 4: Vowel devoicing. In H. Kubozono (Ed.), The handbook of Japanese phonetics and phonology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Keating, P. (1988). Underspecification in phonetics. Phonology, 5, 275-292.

Lammert, A., Goldstein, L., Ramanarayanan, V., & Narayanan, S. (2014). Gestural control in the English past-tense suffix: an articulatory study using real-time MRI. Phonetica, 71(4), 229-248.

Pierrehumbert, J., & Beckman, M. (1988). Japanese Tone Structure. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Recasens, D., & Espinosa, A. (2009). An articulatory investigation of lingual coarticulatory resistance and aggressiveness for consonants and vowels in Catalan. The Journal of the acoustical society of America, 125(4), 2288-2298.

Shaw, J. A., & Davidson, L. (2011). Perceptual similarity in input–output mappings: A computational/experimental study of non-native speech production. Lingua, 121(8), 1344-1358.

Shaw, J. A., Gafos, A., Hoole, P., & Zeroual, C. (2011). Dynamic invariance in the phonetic expression of syllable structure: a case study of Moroccan Arabic consonant clusters. Phonology, 28(3), 455-490.

Shaw, J. A., & Gafos, A. I. (2015). Stochastic Time Models of Syllable Structure. PLoS One, 10(5), e0124714.

Shaw, J. A., Gafos, A. I., Hoole, P., & Zeroual, C. (2009). Syllabification in Moroccan Arabic: evidence from patterns of temporal stability in articulation. Phonology, 26, 187-215.

Call for papers on “The Role of Predictability in Shaping Human Language Sound Patterns”

Call for papers for a special collection in Linguistics Vanguard on “The Role of Predictability in Shaping Human Language Sound Patterns”

Research integrating methods and insights from phonetics, phonology, and psycholinguistics has revealed a substantial amount of evidence for two broad trends in human language sound patterns, both related to a probabilistic notion of predictability. There is evidence now that both phonetic and phonological patterns can be influenced by various measures of local and global predictability including those defined within the phonology (e.g., gradient phonotactic predictability) as well as the predictability of the higher level linguistic units that phonological patterns signify (i.e., message predictability). On the side of message predictability, a key observation is that there appear to be tradeoffs between the predictability of a message and the robustness with which it is articulated (e.g., Hall, Hume, Jaeger & Wedel, 2016), resulting in phonetic variation that could over longer timescales leave us with phonologies that also reflect average message predictability, or “informativity” (e.g., Cohen Priva, 2015). These two broad trends raise a number of questions, which are the focus of this special collection:

  1. What are the consequences of probabilistic predictability for models of phonological grammar, the lexicon and phonological typology?
  2. Under what conditions does variation in the predictability of a message influence its phonological and phonetic form?
  3. Does message predictability interact with other phonological and phonetic principles, including constraints on speech articulation, speech perception, and prosody?
  4. What are the appropriate formal tools for quantifying message predictability and phonological predictability in natural language?
  5. Does message predictability impact the expression of social meaning through phonetic variation?

The target length of each article is 3000-4000 words, which is the journal’s general policy. We are therefore looking for short, concise reports. Accordingly, we expect short turn-around from submission to publication. The proposed timeline is:

  • Submission deadline: April 30th, 2017
  • Reviews returned: June 30th, 2017
  • Decision letters: August 1st, 2017
  • Revisions: September 30th, 2017

Papers will appear online as they are finalized. We hope to have all papers published by the end of 2017.

Linguistics Vanguard is an online, multimodal journal published by De Gruyter Mouton. Because the journal is only published online, special collections serve as “virtual special issues” and are linked by shared keywords. Details about the journal can be found at Linguistics Vanguard strives for a very quick turn-around time from submission to publication.

Inclusion of multimodal content designed to integrate interactive content (including, but not limited to audio and video, images, maps, software code, raw data, hyperlinks to external databases and any other media enhancing the traditional written word) is particularly encouraged.  Special collections contributors should follow general submission guidelines for the journal (

Authors will have free access to the entire special collection. There are no publication costs. All authors may post a pdf on their personal website and/or institutional repository a year after publication. In addition, the introduction, which contains a summary of each article, will be fully freely accessible.

Any questions can be addressed to the special collection editors: Shigeto Kawahara ( and Jason A. Shaw (