Sibilant Variation in New Englishes: A Comparative Sociophonetic Study of Trinidadian and American English /s(tr)/-Retraction

Wiebke Ahlers, Philipp Meer


The retraction of /s/, particularly in /str/ clusters, toward [ʃ] has been investigated in British, Australian, and American English and shown to be conditioned phonetically and sociolinguistically. To date, however, no research exists on the retraction of /s/ in New Englishes, the nativized Englishes spoken in postcolonial territories like the Caribbean. We take up this research gap and present the results of a large-scale comparative acoustic analysis of /s/-retraction in Trinidadian English (TrinE) and American English (AmE), using Center of Gravity measurements of more than 23,500 sibilants produced by 181 speakers from two speech corpora.

The results show that, in TrinE, /str/ is considerably retracted toward [ʃtɹ], while all other /sC(r)/ clusters are non-retracted and acoustically close to singleton /s/; less retracted realizations of /str/ occur across word boundaries. Although a statistically significant contrast is overall maintained between /ʃ/ and the sibilant in /str/, there is considerable overlap across many speakers. The comparison between TrinE and AmE indicates that, while sibilants in TrinE overall show acoustically lower values, both varieties have in common that retraction is limited to /str/ contexts and significantly larger in younger speakers. The degree of /str/-retraction, however, is overall larger in TrinE than AmE.


 DOI: 10.21437/Interspeech.2019-1821

Cite as: Ahlers, W., Meer, P. (2019) Sibilant Variation in New Englishes: A Comparative Sociophonetic Study of Trinidadian and American English /s(tr)/-Retraction. Proc. Interspeech 2019, 291-295, DOI: 10.21437/Interspeech.2019-1821.


@inproceedings{Ahlers2019,
  author={Wiebke Ahlers and Philipp Meer},
  title={{Sibilant Variation in New Englishes: A Comparative Sociophonetic Study of Trinidadian and American English /s(tr)/-Retraction}},
  year=2019,
  booktitle={Proc. Interspeech 2019},
  pages={291--295},
  doi={10.21437/Interspeech.2019-1821},
  url={http://dx.doi.org/10.21437/Interspeech.2019-1821}
}