An EMG Study of the Tense-lax Distinction Theory

  • Kim, Dae-Won (Department of English, College of Education, Pusan National University)
  • Published : 1997.04.01


An electromyographic device was used to investigate the relationship between a linguistic hypothesis of tense-lax distinction and muscular activity. Muscle action potentials of the orbicularis oris muscle and the depressor anguli oris muscle were obtained from four subjects using CVCVCV and CVCVC words in English and VCV and CVC words in Korean. Findings: The hypothesis that the speaker may select at least one of muscles involved in the articulation of a phoneme so that the selected muscle could be activated for tense-lax distinction, and either a timing variable or an amplitude variablethe and/or both from the selected muscle distinguish(es) /p/ from /b/ in English and /$p^{h},\;p^{l}$/ from /p/ in Korean, with the English /p/ and the Korean /$p^{h},\;p^{l}$/ being tense, and the Korean unaspirated /p/ and the English /b/ lax, has been verified, except for the case with subject 2 in stressed syllables in English. (2) Thus, the linguistic hypothesis of tense-lax distinction was strongly supported by the muscular activities during the Korean bilabial stops, with /$p^{h}\;and\;p^{l}$/ being tense and /p/ lax. (3) Considering the intermuscle compensation and the interspeaker variabilities in the choice of a muscle or muscles, in English the usability of the feature 'tensity' appeared to be positive rather than negative although further investigations with more subjects remain to take on the muscles associated with the onset/offset of the labial closure, including the respiratory muscles related with the aspiration. The phoneme-sensitive EMG manifestations of stress and possible reasons for the interspeaker variabilities are discussed.