The influence of language on the acoustic properties of phonetic features: a study of the feature [strident] in Ewe and English

Phonetica. 1994;51(4):221-38. doi: 10.1159/000261978.


This study explored the extent to which the acoustic manifestation of a phonetic feature is influenced by the linguistic role that the feature plays in the sound inventory of the particular language. To this end, we investigated the acoustic property associated with the feature [strident] in the production of bilabial and labiodental fricatives in Ewe, and labiodental and alveolar fricatives in English, and explored whether the acoustic manifestation of the feature [strident] varied in the instantiation of [f] in Ewe and English. In Ewe, the feature [strident] plays a contrastive role distinguishing labiodental from bilabial fricatives, whereas in English the feature [strident] does not play a contrastive role. Results showed that a measure of turbulence noise was able to distinguish bilabial and labiodental fricatives in Ewe and labiodental and alveolar fricatives in English. Moreover, the range of values associated with defining the amplitude characteristics for [f] was similar in the two languages. Nevertheless, differences emerged in the acoustic fine structure of the noise amplitude for [f v] in the two languages, with the frequency distribution for the labiodental fricative in Ewe being skewed towards the high amplitude range relative to English. These results suggest that while the fundamental manifestation of the acoustic property is the same across languages, its instantiation may be influenced by the functional role that its associated feature plays in the language.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Ghana / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Middle Aged
  • Phonetics*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Speech Acoustics*
  • Speech Discrimination Tests
  • United States