Variation in the lexical distribution and implementation of phonetically similar phonemes in Catalan
2016, Journal of Phonetics, Pg. 22–47, Volume 58,
In some Romance languages with two pairs of mid vowel phonemes, it is acknowledged that these contrasts are somewhat unstable. We analyze the distribution and realization of the anterior and posterior mid vowels in Catalan to test claims (mostly based on anecdotal evidence) that these contrasts exhibit inter- and intraspeaker variability. Participants produced target words containing stressed mid vowels and, later, judged vowel height (/e/ vs. /ɛ/; /o/ vs. /ɔ/) in the same words. The results indicate that, even intradialectally, the distribution of mid vowels is somewhat variable, with speakers showing only moderate agreement in the distribution of phonemic vowels. In addition, speakers are not always consistent in their realization of mid vowels when they produce the same word (probably indicating weak phonolexical representations). Interspeaker variation was also observed in the phonetic implementation of the contrasts. The results indicate that the Catalan mid vowel contrasts, like those in other Romance languages, are weaker and less stable than other phonological oppositions.