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Variation in Voice Onset Time for Korean Stops: A Case for Recent Sound Change

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Abstract. Acoustic data elicited from 34 native speakers of Korean living in the United States pro-vide evidence for diachronic change in the voice onset time (VOT) of phrase-initial aspirated and lax stop phonemes. While older speakers produce aspirated and lax stops with clearly differentiated average VOT values, many younger speakers appear to have neutralized this difference, producing VOTs for aspirated stops that are substantially shorter than those of older speakers, and comparable to those for corresponding lax stops. The data further indicate that, within each age group, older speakers manifest sex-based differences in VOT while younger speakers do not. Despite this appar-ent shift in VOT values, the acoustic evidence suggests that all speakers in this study, regardless of age, continue to mark underlying differences between aspirated and lax stops in terms of stop closure and the fundamental frequency of the following vowel. It is concluded that the data point to a recent phonetic shift in the language, whereby VOT no longer serves as the primary cue to differentiate between lax and aspirated stops. There is not, however, evidence of any reorganization of the lan-guage as the phonemic level: the language's underlying lax ~ aspirated ~ tense contrasts endure.
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Keywords: Korean language; apparent time; aspiration; phonetics; phonology; sound change; variation; voice onset time (VOT)

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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