Sixth International Conference on Spoken Language Processing
(ICSLP 2000)

Beijing, China
October 16-20, 2000

The Special Phonological Characteristics of Monosyllabic Function Words in English

Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel (1), Nanette Veilleux (2)

(1) Research Laboratory of Electronics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
(2) Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Simmons College, Boston, MA, USA

Monosyllabic Function Words of American English, such as articles (e.g. the, a), pronouns (him, them) and conjunctions (and, or), are notorious for their pronunciation variability in continuous speech. This study explores one potential correlate of this variation: the phonological character of Function Word forms. The Brown Corpus of 1 million words of written text, with each word token labeled for part of speech, provides a quasi-comprehensive listing and categorization of the Function Words of English, making it possible to compare the phonological characteristics of Function Words with those of a substantial sample of Content Words. Results show that Function Words are more likely to begin with a vowel than Content Words are; in addition, when an onset consonant is specified, it is less likely to be a stop consonant for a Function Word than for a Content Word. A set of words whose categorization is uncertain, like quite, such all, many etc, show intermediate values on these two phonological dimensions. The differences are consistent with the hypothesis that Function Words are phonologically weaker than Content Words, perhaps contributing to their susceptibility to severe phonetic modification in continuous speech.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Shattuck-Hufnagel, Stefanie / Veilleux, Nanette (2000): "The special phonological characteristics of monosyllabic function words in English", In ICSLP-2000, vol.1, 540-543.