UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Speech Science Forum - Hannah King (Université Paris Cité)

02 February 2023, 4:00 pm–5:30 pm

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The role of the lips in the production and perception of /r/ in Anglo-English

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Justin Lo


Articulatory variation is well-documented in post-alveolar approximant realisations ([ɹ]) of /r/ in rhotic Englishes, which present a wide array of tongue configurations.  However, the production of /r/ remains enigmatic, especially concerning non-rhotic Englishes and the accompanying labial gesture, both of which tend to be overlooked in the literature. I attempt to account for them both by considering the production and perception of /r/ in non-rhotic varieties of English spoken in England, ‘Anglo-English’. Anglo-English is of particular interest because non-lingual labiodental articulations of /r/ are rapidly developing, which may be due to the visual prominence of the lips, although a detailed phonetic description of this change in progress has yet to be undertaken. Three production and perception experiments were conducted to investigate the role of the lips in Anglo-English /r/. The results suggest that Anglo-English speakers use their lips to enhance the perceptual saliency of /r/ in both the auditory and the visual domains. I relate /r/’s visual saliency to pressure to maintain a phonological contrast with /w/ due to increased exposure to [w]-like, non-lingual /r/ variants in native Anglo-English speakers. In auditory perception presented in noise, speakers tend to perceive both [ɹ] and [w] as /r/. However, in visual-only perception, speakers can distinguish between [ɹ] and [w] with almost perfect accuracy. The findings have theoretical implications for the nature of speech perception in general, as well as for the role of visual speech cues in diachronic sound change.

About the Speaker

Hannah King

at Université Paris Cité

More about Hannah King