Tionól 2016, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
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(with Máire Ní Chiosáin)
We present the results of a study of the acoustic properties of short vowels in Modern Irish, building on data from all three major dialect groupings. It is well known that short vowels in Irish are realized as back or front depending on the palatalization of the surrounding consonants (thus liom [u] but linn [i]). In addition, traditional descriptions also recognize that vowels can also have a number of distinct allophones whose distribution also depends on surrounding consonants: for instance, De Bhaldraithe (1945) describes four distinct varieties of [a] in Cois Fhairrge Irish.
We conduct an acoustic and statistical analysis of the pronunciations of short vowels by speakers of all three major dialects of Irish in order to evaluate the relative contribution of the two kinds of consonant influence on vowel phonetics. We show that the distribution of the coarser categories (e.g. [i] vs. [u]) is largely predictable and mostly follows the generalizations that can be extracted from the traditional descriptive literature (e.g. Ó Maolalaigh 1998). However, the finer-grained allophony does not require setting up discrete categories as in the traditional descriptions, but instead emerges from the interplay of various continuous factors.