Electromyographic evidence for a gestural-overlap analysis of vowel devoicing in Korean

  • Jun, Sun-A (Linguistics Dept. University of California, Los Angeles) ;
  • Beckman, M. (Linguistics Dept. Ohio State University) ;
  • Niimi, Seiji (Research Institute of Logopedics & Phoniatrics. Tokyo University) ;
  • Tiede, Mark (ATR Human Information Processing Laboratories)
  • Published : 1997.04.01


In languages such as Japanese, it is very common to observe that short peripheral vowel are completely voiceless when surrounded by voiceless consonants. This phenomenon has been known as Montreal French, Shanghai Chinese, Greek, and Korean. Traditionally this phenomenon has been described as a phonological rule that either categorically deletes the vowel or changes the [+voice] feature of the vowel to [-voice]. This analysis was supported by Sawashima (1971) and Hirose (1971)'s observation that there are two distinct EMG patterns for voiced and devoiced vowel in Japanese. Close examination of the phonetic evidence based on acoustic data, however, shows that these phonological characterizations are not tenable (Jun & Beckman 1993, 1994). In this paper, we examined the vowel devoicing phenomenon in Korean using data from ENG fiberscopic and acoustic recorders of 100 sentences produced by one Korean speaker. The results show that there is variability in the 'degree of devoicing' in both acoustic and EMG signals, and in the patterns of glottal closing and opening across different devoiced tokens. There seems to be no categorical difference between devoiced and voiced tokens, for either EMG activity events or glottal patterns. All of these observations support the notion that vowel devoicing in Korean can not be described as the result of the application of a phonological rule. Rather, devoicing seems to be a highly variable 'phonetic' process, a more or less subtle variation in the specification of such phonetic metrics as degree and timing of glottal opening, or of associated subglottal pressure or intra-oral airflow associated with concurrent tone and stricture specifications. Some of token-pair comparisons are amenable to an explanation in terms of gestural overlap and undershoot. However, the effect of gestural timing on vocal fold state seems to be a highly nonlinear function of the interaction among specifications for the relative timing of glottal adduction and abduction gestures, of the amplitudes of the overlapped gestures, of aerodynamic conditions created by concurrent oral tonal gestures, and so on. In summary, to understand devoicing, it will be necessary to examine its effect on phonetic representation of events in many parts of the vocal tracts, and at many stages of the speech chain between the motor intent and the acoustic signal that reaches the hearer's ear.