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What affects the presence versus absence of schwa and its duration: A corpus analysis of French connected speech


Ernestus,  Mirjam
Center for Language Studies, External organization;
Language Comprehension Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Bürki, A., Ernestus, M., Gendrot, C., Fougeron, C., & Frauenfelder, U. H. (2011). What affects the presence versus absence of schwa and its duration: A corpus analysis of French connected speech. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 130, 3980-3991. doi:10.1121/1.3658386.

This study presents an analysis of over 4000 tokens of words produced as variants with and without schwa in a French corpus of radio-broadcasted speech. In order to determine which of the many variables mentioned in the literature influence variant choice, 17 predictors were tested in the same analysis. Only five of these variables appeared to condition variant choice. The question of the processing stage, or locus, of this alternation process is also addressed in a comparison of the variables that predict variant choice with the variables that predict the acoustic duration of schwa in variants with schwa. Only two variables predicting variant choice also predict schwa duration. The limited overlap between the predictors for variant choice and for schwa duration, combined with the nature of these variables, suggest that the variants without schwa do not result from a phonetic process of reduction; that is, they are not the endpoint of gradient schwa shortening. Rather, these variants are generated early in the production process, either during phonological encoding or word-form retrieval. These results, based on naturally produced speech, provide a useful complement to on-line production experiments using artificial speech tasks.