Vowel variability in elicited versus spontaneous speech: Evidence from Mixtec

Christian DiCanio, Hosung Nam, Jonathan D. Amith, Rey Castillo García, D. H. Whalen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigates the influence of speech style, duration, contextual factors, and sex on vowel dispersion and variability in Yoloxóchitl Mixtec, an endangered language spoken in Mexico. Oral vowels were examined from recordings of elicited citation words and spontaneous narrative speech matched across seven speakers. Results show spontaneous speech to contain shorter vowel durations and stronger effects of contextual assimilation than elicited speech. The vowel space is less disperse and there is greater intra-vowel variability in spontaneous speech than in elicited speech. Furthermore, male speakers show smaller differences in vowel dispersion and duration across styles than female speakers do. These phonetic differences across speech styles are not entirely reducible to durational differences; rather, speakers also seem to adjust their articulatory/acoustic precision in accordance with style. Despite the stylistic differences, we find robust acoustic differences between vowels in spontaneous speech, maintaining the overall vowel space pattern. While style and durational changes produce noticeable differences in vowel acoustics, one can closely approximate the phonetics of a vowel system of an endangered language from narrative speech. Elicited speech is likelier to give the most extreme formants used by the language than is spontaneous speech, but the usefulness of phonetic data from spontaneous speech has still been demonstrated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-59
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jan 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first two authors listed contributed equally to the current manuscript. The YM corpus was elicited by Castillo García, Amith, and DiCanio with support from Hans Rausing Endangered Language Programme Grant MDP0201 (Amith, PI) and NSF Grant 0966462 (Amith, PI). The authors would like to thank Leandro DiDomenico at Université Lyon 2 for his help with transcription labelling of the elicited speech corpus. This work was supported by NSF Grant 0966411 to Haskins Laboratories (Whalen, PI).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Dispersion
  • Endangered languages
  • Forced alignment
  • Mixtec
  • Style
  • Variability
  • Vowels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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