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Falk, Simone (2011): Temporal Variability and Stability in Infant-Directed Sung Speech: Evidence for Language-specific Patterns. In: Language and Speech, Vol. 54, No. 2: pp. 167-180




In this paper, sung speech is used as a methodological tool to explore temporal variability in the timing of word-internal consonants and vowels. It is hypothesized that temporal variability/stability becomes clearer under the varying rhythmical conditions induced by song. This is explored crosslinguistically in German – a language that exhibits a potential vocalic quantity distinction – and the non-quantity languages French and Russian. Songs by non-professional singers, i.e. parents that sang to their infants aged 2 to 13 months in a non-laboratory setting, were recorded and analyzed. Vowel and consonant durations at syllable contacts of trochaic word types with ¦CVCV or ¦CVːCV structure were measured under varying rhythmical conditions. Evidence is provided that in German non-professional singing, the two syllable structures can be differentiated by two distinct temporal variability patterns: vocalic variability (and consonantal stability) was found to be dominant in ¦CVːCV structures whereas consonantal variability (and vocalic stability) was characteristic for ¦CVCV structures. In French and Russian, however, only vocalic variability seemed to apply. Additionally, findings suggest that the different temporal patterns found in German were also supported by the stability pattern at the tonal level. These results point to subtle (supra) segmental timing mechanisms in sung speech that affect temporal targets according to the specific prosodic nature of the language in question.