Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Juliette Blevins

Committee Members

Douglas H. Whalen

Jason Bishop

Claire Bowern

Subject Categories

Linguistics | Phonetics and Phonology


voicing distinctions, voice onset time, corpus phonetics, Bardi, Nahuatl, Arapaho


Almost all studies on the phonetics of oral stop voicing patterns focus on languages with a voicing distinction. This gives rise to some debate regarding which aspects of voicing patterns arise from inherent articulatory effects related to the production of a voicing distinction, and which aspects are intentional adjustments by speakers meant to enhance a phonological contrast.

This study investigates the phonetic properties of oral stops in three No Voicing Distinction (NVD) languages; Bardi (bcj), Arapaho (arp), and Sierra Norte de Puebla Nahuatl (azz). NVD languages do not utilize the larynx to maintain a contrast between any two sounds in their phoneme inventory. NVD languages do not use the larynx to produce any contrasts, and therefore present an opportunity to determine whether laryngeal defaults will emerge in this situation. Although NVD languages do not have a voicing distinction, there are a number of commonly accepted acoustic correlates of laryngeal properties that are based on observations from languages with a voicing distinction. The acoustic properties of NVD languages can be compared with patterns seen in languages with laryngeal contrasts as well as compared across the three languages to determine what phonetic patterns are shared across NVD languages.

Acoustic correlates of voicing distinctions were measured from labial, coronal, and velar oral stops in four phonological contexts: phrase-initial, intervocalic, post-nasal, and phrase-final. Five acoustic properties commonly associated with voicing distinctions were measured: total oral stop duration, rate of lenition, phonated and silent closure duration, voice onset time (VOT), and preceding vowel duration.

Overall, the findings from this dissertation serve to bridge the gap between phonetic science and phonological approaches to laryngeal properties. Results add to the discussions which relate to universal defaults, underspecification, and markedness principles in phonological systems. The results from this study suggest that while there are general phonetic processes which pose constraints on laryngeal properties in NVD languages, each of the three languages differed with regard to the implementation of these constraints. These results challenge universalist and markedness proposals which predict more uniformity when there is a lack of a contrast. Alternative approaches to explaining laryngeal properties which can account for more language-specific variation are better suited to explaining the results found in this study.­­

Each of the three languages studied in this project are endangered, under threat, and under-documented. Thus, a secondary aim of this dissertation is to highlight the contribution that endangered and under-documented languages can make to linguistic theory by expanding our understanding of the full range of human language structures.