Brandt, Erika; Möbius, Bernd; Andreeva, Bistra

Dynamic Formant Trajectories in German Read Speech: Impact of Predictability and Prominence

Frontiers in Communication, section Language Sciences, 6, pp. 1-15, 2021.

Phonetic structures expand temporally and spectrally when they are difficult to predict from their context. To some extent, effects of predictability are modulated by prosodic structure. So far, studies on the impact of contextual predictability and prosody on phonetic structures have neglected the dynamic nature of the speech signal. This study investigates the impact of predictability and prominence on the dynamic structure of the first and second formants of German vowels. We expect to find differences in the formant movements between vowels standing in different predictability contexts and a modulation of this effect by prominence. First and second formant values are extracted from a large German corpus. Formant trajectories of peripheral vowels are modeled using generalized additive mixed models, which estimate nonlinear regressions between a dependent variable and predictors. Contextual predictability is measured as biphone and triphone surprisal based on a statistical German language model. We test for the effects of the information-theoretic measures surprisal and word frequency, as well as prominence, on formant movement, while controlling for vowel phonemes and duration. Primary lexical stress and vowel phonemes are significant predictors of first and second formant trajectory shape. We replicate previous findings that vowels are more dispersed in stressed syllables than in unstressed syllables. The interaction of stress and surprisal explains formant movement: unstressed vowels show more variability in their formant trajectory shape at different surprisal levels than stressed vowels. This work shows that effects of contextual predictability on fine phonetic detail can be observed not only in pointwise measures but also in dynamic features of phonetic segments.