An articulatory study of the alveolar versus retroflex contrast in pre- and post-stress position in Arrernte

Marija Tabain, Richard Beare

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This study presents articulometry and palatography data for Arrernte, a language of Central Australia. It examines the contrast between the apical consonants – alveolar versus retroflex – according to lexical stress. Stop, nasal and lateral consonants are treated separately. Results show that the most prototypical retroflex articulation – where the tongue tip is retracted for post-alveolar closure and eventually released at a more anterior location – occurs after a stressed vowel. By contrast, a prototypical alveolar articulation – with closure and release at the same (anterior) region along the palate – is more likely to occur before a stressed vowel. In addition, it is shown that the contrast between alveolars and retroflexes varies by manner of articulation, being clearest for the nasal manner. It is suggested that the low jaw position which is an inherent property of nasal articulations facilitates retraction of the tongue tip for retroflexion, and that nasalization of adjacent vowels may motivate an exaggeration of the alveolar-retroflex contrast. For laterals, however, the alveolar~retroflex contrast is not so clear, and it is suggested that the articulatory requirements for lateral airflow may compromise full retraction of the tongue tip. Typological implications of these results are discussed, as is the possibility that CV versus VC (i.e. alveolar versus retroflex) cues to place of articulation are best encoded within a stressed vowel.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100952
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Apical consonants
  • Australian languages
  • Marginal phonemic contrasts
  • Post-tonic strengthening

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