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Solution for November 2002


"Could you ... take a later flight?"

Okay, this is a slightly retooled version of something I actually said, the way I said it. When I realized it was a prosodic nightmare, I decided to use it. Ha. In addition to the segmental transcription, I've included my best guess at a ToBI-style transcription of the pitch track. I've taken some liberties with the ToBI conventions. I've sort of conflated the Break Index Tier and the Tone Tier into a single line. Instead of an Orthographic Tier, I've just aligned the break indices to my segmental transcription. I've skipped the additional 'miscellaneous' tier, but it might be worth having one, if only to mention the absurd lengthening at the end of the first 'phrase'. If that's what's going on. If anyone out there is ToBI savvy, I wouldn't mind discussing whether my interpretation is plausible. I've appended a discussion of the prosody at the end of this page.

But first, the segmental stuff

Lower-case K + Right Superscript H, IPA 109 + 404
SIL [kH], Unicode [kʰ]
First thing to notice is the looooooong aspiration. Starting from about 125 msec stretching out to about 225 msec, that's a lot of aspiration. Not outrageous, but a lot. The initial stretch where it's heavier I interpret as release. I'd be happier if this were a double-burst, and not a long slushy release, but there you go. The F3-resonance in the burst is at an ambiguous frequency, not to mention unusually weak. The low F2-resonance is troubling (see the vowel to follow) but the concentration of energy in F2, rather than F4 or above, and the fact that that energy doesn't get stronger in the lower frequencies (as we might expect for a bilabial) suggest velar over anything else.

Barred I, IPA 317
SIL [], Unicode [ɨ]
QUite a low F1, indicating a quite high vowel. The F2 is a little low, but I guarantee, because I made sure I articulated this vowel this way, that it's not at all round. This might be better transcribed as 'turned m', (IPA 316 high back unround, cardinal 16, [] or [ɯ] if you can see the characters), but I"m not entirely convinced this is as back as it might be. Hence Barred I.

Lower-case D, IPA 104
SIL [d], Unicode [d]
Well, there's not much evidence of anything going on here. There's a nice little voiced gap here, a little long to be a flap. But the transitions are amiguous. The F1 and F3 don't seem to be doing anything. The F2 is clearly transitioning between the lower position for the previous vowel and the very high position in the following segment. Interestingly it seems to be interrupted by this stop at 1700 Hz, near the (apparent) locus of alveolar transitions, but that may just be coincidence. In the absence of anything to the contrary, guess alveolar.

Lower-case J, IPA 153
SIL [j], Unicode [j]
Round about 425 or 450 msec, the F2 reaches a maximum well above 2000 Hz. Which means this is about as front as it gets. The extremum here is very short and starts rapidly to decline. Now, if you've been following these things for a while, you know a) my back round vowels are never really back or very round (and certainly never both at the same time) b) I've merged OE /y/ (ME and ModE /ju/) and /u/ everywhere except coronals, and c) the reflex of /u/ after coronals has a front on-glide). So you may be tempted to ignore this. But that extremeum is just too high. Also, there's amoment just after the extremum where the F1 apprently jumps just a little (although the harmonics are dancing around so it's a little hard to tell), so something is 'going on' here. So I transcribe a front glide and get on with things.

Barred I + Barred U, IPA 317 + 318
SIL [], Unicode [ɨʉ]
Okay I'm not 100% sure what's going on here. This is absurdly long, so who knows what's normal and what's weird about about it due to the length. Starting at the point (about 500 msec) where the F1 changes, there's two stretches that seem sort of flat. The first is from about 625 to about 700 msec, and the second is about 800 to 900 msec. So I transcribe a diphthong with changing roundness, in the high vowel range, and mostly central.

Lower-case T + Right Superscript H, IPA 103 + 404
SIL [tH], Unicode [tʰ]
There's a nice little 50 msec or so gap here, around 1000 msec, followed by some pretty serious aspiration. The noise is pretty spread out top to bottom, but stronger at the top. It looks [s] like, which is a pretty good clue that this alveolar. (Why would the aspiration following [t] resemble [s]? Discuss.) The transitions are not particularly helpful, and once again, the semi-natural course of F2 is interrupted at exactly the right moment. On the other hand, the F2 transition into the stop is a different angle than the transition out. Maybe there's something to this locus stuff after all.

Lower-case E + Small Capital I, IPA 302 + 319
SIL [eI], Unicode [eɪ]
Moving F1 and moving F2, I'd say this is diphthongal, which isn't always typical of my speech. F1 moves from the lower-mid range (indicating a higher-mid vowel) to even lower (higher vowel quality). The F2 is high, moving higher. Sounds like the standard description of NAE /e/ to me.

Lower-case K + Right Superscript H, IPA 109 + 404
SIL [kH], Unicode [kʰ]
A front velar. Note the F2-F3 pinch, even though it's mostly F2 action. I'm beginning to thing my velar stops just never fully stop. There being no velar fricatives in English, I call this a stop. There's a burst, just before 1300 msec, or maybe it's just a 'clunk'. But if you trace the F2 and F3 transitions through the aspiration, or whatever it is, they seem to pinch just about 2000 Hz. This is at best weakly aspirated, but I read the clunk as a release. The VOT then is about 33 msec, which is a little short for a velar, but is a little long for an unaspirated stop. If it is aspiration, this stop can't be syllable initial--the VOT would be a lot longer. On the other hand, there isn't quite enough voicing and the aspiration is a little bit long to be a /g/ syllable initially. The point is it's velar, probably a stop.

Schwa, IPA 322
SIL [], Unicode [ə]
There's 25-35 msec of vowel just after 1300 msec. Note the transitions, so we're not quite at the following /l/ target yet. Also the amplitude is greater, more vowel-like. But it's so short, I transcribed it as reduced.

Lower-case L + Mid Tilde, IPA 155 + 428
SIL [l], Unicode [ɫ]
Someone who Shall Remain Nameless suggested that this couldn't be a dark /l/ because it was syllable initial (or at least intervocalic, and if the preceding vowel is unstressed then, given onsets first, this is probably pretty initial). To which I replied 'look at that F2. Looks plenty dark to me.' Which should be a lesson to us. Phonetic transcription (or acoustic transcription, whatever I'm doing here) is about recording the sounds as they are produced, not as we would like them to be, and definitely not as we were taught they were supposed to be. The fact is that in NAE, the rule doesn't distribute a light /l/ and a dark /l/, but rather a dark /l/ and a darker /l/. Where we understand 'dark' to mean 'velarized', and we take 'velarization' to be a lowering of F2. There's no way to treat the F2 of any /l/ I've ever produced (in English) as anything but low. Particularly this one, which is otherwise admirably initial. It's nice and short, the F3 is a little high, the amplitude is down.

Lower-case E + Small Capital I, IPA 302 + 319
SIL [eI], Unicode [eɪ]
Okay, I've used the same transcription, and this is arguable. Part of the problem is the starting and ending points are messed up by surrounding segments. The F2 starts way low due to the F2 of the preceding /l/, and the falling F3 (anticipating the later /r/) is screwing with the F2 and F3 in this vowel. But the F1 is definitely mid-ish, and the F2 is going from not front to definitely front. How many mid vowels have front offglides? Well, two. But this one is /e/.

Fish-hook R, IPA 124
SIL [R], Unicode [ɾ]
Flap. Tiny little gap. Barely a stop. Doesn't interrupt the 'flow' of the resonances at all. Voiced. Flap.

Turned R + Syllabicity Mark, IPA 151 + 431
SIL [`], Unicode [ɹ̩]
Low low F3. Must be an /r/. No evidence of any vowel on either side, so probably syllabic.

Lower-case F, IPA 128
SIL [f], Unicode [f]
This is a function of my noisy office, my hand-held microphone (which is really a pretty good microphone, but it gets a lot of abuse banging around my office), and my noisy /f/s. THis is quite long for a fricative, and no slouch in the amplitude department. But notice the noise. It's not well-organized. It's distributed more or less evenly through the spectrum. It's not much darker at the higher amplitudes. It doesn't die out below 1500 Hz or so. It just doesn't have the profile of a sibiliant. It doesn't have centers/resonances, and certainly none contiguous with the lower formants. It doesn't have the profile of an /h/. So, as fricatives go in English, there aren't a lot of choices. The unfiltered/unshaped nature suggests labiodental or interdental (or even bilabial), even if elimination didn't lead us to the incisors one way or another. So, since this is voicless, it really has to be [f] or Theta. Sound it out.

Lower-case L + Mid Tilde, IPA 155 + 428
SIL [l], Unicode [ɫ]
There's this moment where the frication ends, the voicing starts, but there's no energy in the higher frequencies. Okay, it's two pulses, but I'm taking it. Given the F2, it has to be fairly back, and /r/ isn't indicated (no indication of a low F3). So this is /w/ or /l/. Again, sound it out.

Lower-case A + Small Capital I, IPA 304 + 319
SIL [aI], Unicode [aɪ]
Once you abstract away the formants of the dark /l/, we've got high F1 that falls, and a lowish F2 that raises. So low-to-high vowel, moving backish to front. /ai/.

Lower-case T + Right Superscript H, IPA 103 + 404
SIL [tH], Unicode [tʰ]
Okay there's no useful information in the transitions into this gap--the F3 is flat. The F2 looks like it's rising toward the F3, and it is suggestive of velar pinch, but then again the vowel's F2 is moving in that direction anyway. So it's almost definitely not bilabial, but the transitions approaching 2000 msec aren't otherwise helpful. But the release/aspiration noise is a dead give away. It's top-heavy, i.e. darker in the higher frequencies, and, well, dark. Looks a lot like /s/, which is a good approximation of voiceless (/h/) noise filtered through an alveolar release. So the release must be alveolar. And this doesn't look like one of those /kt/ sequences that start out /k/ and end up /t/. So I think we can just leave it at /t/.

The prosody and intonation

"could"
Break Index: 1
I've included a H* on the stressed 'could', since the pitch track indicates (relatively) high pitch here. This might be a case of those rare %H right boundary tones, since this utterance could just as easily have started low. I didn't affricate the /...d# #j.../ sequence here, so I decided it didn't merit a 0 BI.

"you"
Break Index: 3
The absurd lengthening of this word I attribute to it being, somewhat accidentally, at the end of a phrase. In the 'real' utterance, this was me trying to decide whether not to suggest an option to something else that was going on. Even though this is a separate word (i.e. the no affrication) it doesn't seem to exhibit any evidence of a separate pitch accent of its own. I assume the slope is just interpolation between the H* on 'could' and the L- edge tone. I think these are still officially called 'phrase accents'. I just call them the edge-tones (or occasionally 'minus-tones'), as opposed to the star tones (word level pitch accents) and boundary tones (marking the ends of Intonational Phrases ('clause' or 'utterance'-level constituents).

It's been pointed out to me (thanks, Kevin) that this isn't so much a real phrase ending as it is a filled pause. The whole flat-but-declining contour here then could simply be just unmarked mid pitch (note the high isn't as high as the later highs and the lows get lower). Since there's obviously no contrast with other kinds of relatively unmarked intonational stuff (e.g. low throughout) this is probably not a bad interpretation. But less fun. ;-)

"take"
Break Index: 1
As the speaker, I feel like there's a high of some kind on 'take', but as you can see, the pitch peak is displaced onto the following syllable. And if that weren't bad enough, there's a distinct low on the 'take' syllable (it's higher than the edge L- preceding it, suggesting baseline reset and justifying my 3BI at 'you', if the lengthening weren't enough). Since the 'a' definitely isn't tone-bearing in the usual sense, I've decided this is a 'scooped' L*+H.

"a"
Break Index: 0
The 'a' is marked with a 0 BI, since I regard it as proclitic on the next word. It doesn't get a pitch accent (star tone) of its own, and I definitely don't think it deserves a H* of its own, which would be the most obvious choice.

"later"
Break Index: 1
I think the current ToBI conventions call for some kind of pitch accent on every stressed lexical word unless it's deaccented in some way. So I've marked 'later' a L* on its stressed syllable. I almost didn't, except for my interpretation of the aforesaid convention, but I think this is the right decision independently. If there weren't a separate pitch accent on 'later', there'd be no reason for the tone to drop so abruptly here, instead of just interpolating in a more or less straight line to the L* on 'flight', as in 'you'.

"flight"
Break Index: 4
This gets a 4BI due to being at the end of an utterance. 4s indicate the end of an Intonational Phrase, which as I said above are (generally) clause- or utterance-level, or have the feeling thereof. Anyway, 4s are interesting, because a) being both phrase and utterance final, the last syllable before a 4 lengthens a lot, b) being both the end of an Intermediate Phrase and an Intonational Phrase, they get both edge-tones and boundary-tones. And this 4 marks the end of a one-syllable lexical word, which gets a * tone of its own. So I chose a L*L- H% sequence. There's clearly a L* of some kind on flight, which is only to be expected in a yes-no question. And it being a yes-no question, it gets some kind of H% boundary tone. But what kind of edge tone should go here? I've marked a L-, since the L* seems a little long. But that means displacing the L- to the left, sort of next to the L*, instead of next to the boundary tone where it usually goes. The other choice, L* H-H%, is a possibility, but then we'd have to say the longish L* is due to final lengthening, and I'm just not up enough on intonation to know of the targets get long under lengthening, just like segments, or not. If anyone who knows the E_ToBI conventions better than me wants to comment, correct, or discuss, please e-mail me.