Towards a New Repesentation of the Dutch Syllable. An Experimental Study to Degemination and Ambisyllabicity

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Dutch intervocalic consonants that are preceded by a lax vowel are considered to be ambisyllabic, that is, they are assumed to belong to both the preceding and the following syllable at the same time (Van der Hulst, 1985). Ambisyllabicity followed from the idea that tense vowels are underlyingly long and lax vowels underlyingly short, and that a syllable rhyme must be binary. Since the underlying representation of ambisyllabic (short) and geminate (long) consonants is identical, languages should either have ambisyllabicity or have a length distinction between short and long consonants. Previous studies showed that the core assumption of ambisyllabicity is wrong – all vowels are underlyingly short and are lengthened only because of stress – without properly investigating what that could imply for ambisyllabicity. In this thesis, we explore the validity of ambisyllabicity based on production and perception experiments we carried out throughout the Netherlands. The experiments show that long consonants (that should be degeminated, and thus should have a similar representation as single consonants) remain up to 34 milliseconds longer than their regular single counterparts, while ambisyllabic and regular single intervocalic consonants, that are assumed to have a different underlying structure, show no duration differences. Our experiments thus show that it is more likely that Dutch has an opposition between short and long consonants rather than that is has ambisyllabicity. We therefore propose to abandon the idea of ambisyllabicity and to represent intervocalic consonants just as single onset consonants.
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