Reconsidering the variable context: A phonological argument for (t) and (d) deletion

Amos, J., Kasstan, J. and Johnson, W. 2020. Reconsidering the variable context: A phonological argument for (t) and (d) deletion. English Today.

TitleReconsidering the variable context: A phonological argument for (t) and (d) deletion
TypeJournal article
AuthorsAmos, J., Kasstan, J. and Johnson, W.
Abstract

There have been a number of studies investigating the phenomenon of t-d deletion in English, the process through which /t/ or /d/ can be deleted in word final Ct or Cd coda clusters. This diverse body of research ranges from sociolinguistic studies examining the role of social factors in deletion variation (such as Guy and Boyd 1990) through to more phonological based analyses. The latter approaches include frequency analyses (such as Bybee 2002) and statistically driven Optimality Theory accounts (such as the Multiple Grammars approach by Kiparsky 1993, for example), as well as more articulatory-based explanations (such as Guy and Boberg 1997, who regard t-d deletion as a result of obligatory contour principle violations). Hierarchies have been constructed of the preceding and following consonants most likely to promote deletion, but each of the studies has concentrated on an individual interpretation of the phenomenon. However, despite the attention paid to this connected speech feature throughout the literature, very little, if any, attention has been paid to the complementary distribution of /t/ and /d/ in monomorphemic final clusters nor their morphological status and the interaction between /t/ deletion and glottalisation in certain environments. For example, the suggestion (Guy 1980 et seq) that the most likely type of preceding sound to promote deletion is a sibilant cannot adequately explain the patterns supplied by English data analysis, as it does not take distribution into account. Thus, this blanket claim fails to observe that, whilst /s/ is overall a promoter, this will only occur before /t/, and that /ʃ/ would only ever occur before /t/ in bimorphemic words. Our paper explores both the benefits and the shortcomings of previous work in both American and British English analyses, and presents a new sociophonological analysis using data from a linguistic variety of South-East British English. The initial data discussed here were extracted from casual sociolinguistic interviews of Mersea Island English speakers, and represents both genders and two distinct age groups. A total of 897 tokens were processed for (t) and (d) as individual variables (N= 491 and N=406, respectively) in order to compare and contrast both variables with respect to their morpho-phonological and syntactic distribution, as well as applicable social constraints. While differences in social variation appear minimal, the resulting analysis of linguistic constraints demonstrates the importance of analysing (t) and (d) as separate variables. A comparison thus highlights differing patterns of distribution across linguistic contexts, as well as interactions with other dialectal process (such as /l/ vocalisation), prompting the creation of two separate deletion hierarchies and a number of new analytical perspectives.

Keywordssociolinguistics, language variation and change, English, phonology
JournalEnglish Today
ISSN0266-0784
Year2020
PublisherCambridge University Press
Accepted author manuscript

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