Languages vary not only in terms of their sound inventory, but also in the phonological status certain sound distinctions are assigned. For example, while vowel nasality is lexically contrastive (phonemic) in Quebecois French, it is largely determined by the context (allophonic) in American English; the reverse is true for vowel tenseness. If phonetics and phonology interact, a minimal pair of sounds should span a larger acoustic divergence when it is pronounced by speakers for whom the underlying distinction is phonemic compared to allophonic. Near minimal pairs were segmented from a corpus of American English and Quebecois French using a crossed design (since nasality and tenseness have opposite phonological status in the two languages). Pairwise time-aligned divergences between contrasts were calculated on the basis of 7 mainstream spoken feature representations, and a set of linguistic phonetic measurements. Only carefully selected phonetic measurements revealed the expected cross-over, with larger divergences for English than French tokens of the tenseness contrast, and larger divergences for French than English tokens for the nasality contrast. We conclude that the phonetic effects of phonological status are subtle enough that only linguistically-informed (or supervised) measurements can pick up on them.
Bibliographic reference. Versteegh, Maarten / Seidl, Amanda / Cristia, Alejandrina (2014): "Acoustic correlates of phonological status", In INTERSPEECH-2014, 91-95.