Pre-aspiration in Welsh English: A case study of Aberystwyth

  • Michaela Hejna

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the phonetic, phonological, and social aspects of pre-aspiration in English spoken in Aberystwyth, mid Wales. Pre-aspiration refers to a period of voiceless (primarily) glottal friction occurring in the sequences of sonorants and phonetically voiceless obstruents (e.g. in mat [mahts] or mass [mahs]). Chapter 1 summarises the objectives of this thesis and where the thesis is positioned with respect to our current knowledge of the phenomenon and the relevant theoretical issues. Chapter 2 introduces the data used to address these objectives.Pre-aspiration is usually considered as consisting of a voiced glottal component, or breathiness, and a voiceless glottal component, or voiceless pre-aspiration, and these are treated as a single unit in a number of analyses (Helgason 2003; Helgason & Ringen 2008; Karlsson & Svantesson 2011; Morris 2010; Ringen & van Dommelen 2013; Stevens & Hajek 2004b, 2004c; Stevens 2010, 2011). Chapter 3 shows that this is not adequate because distinguishing the two enables us to discover patterns that would remain obscured otherwise - such as breathiness being a possible precursor to pre-aspiration. This is demonstrated through the segmental and prosodic conditioning of pre-aspiration and breathiness.Chapter 4 shows that although pre-aspiration is not an obligatory feature of Aberystwyth English (in the sense that it would occur in 100% of time where it can), it nevertheless forms two clear categories sensitive to phonological rather than phonetic vowel height. However, phonological vowel height on its own cannot explain these two categories and interacts with a number of other conditioning factors.Whilst Chapter 3 investigates the relationship between pre-aspiration and breathiness, Chapter 5 looks into that of pre-aspiration and glottalisation and demonstrates that the two can occur in the same environment, which enlightens the debates related to the historical connections between pre-aspiration and glottalisation in particular (e.g. Kortland 1988). It furthermore reveals that although it is not known why they are co-occurring for some speakers and mutually exclusive or allophonic for others, their relationship is conditioned prosodically and not segmentally.Chapter 6 illustrates that pre-aspiration is an acoustic correlate of the fortis-lenis contrast in plosives in production at least equally well as breathiness, voicing, release duration, or the duration of the preceding vowel, and better than voiceless closure duration, glottalisation, or f0 before or after the plosive in question in the word-medial (cotter [khɒhtsə] ~ codder [khɒdə]) and the word-final positions (cot ~ cod). It is therefore at least as important as the other four correlates.Chapter 7 finds that pre-aspiration also exhibits social conditioning. Females pre-aspirate more frequently than males, which is often found in pre-aspiration studies, but this difference disappears as the age decreases. Furthermore, the frequency of breathiness, and the duration of pre-aspiration and breathiness are not conditioned by gender. However, all four variables are affected by age. Pre-aspiration thus seems to be undergoing an advancing sound change according to Labov's Principle II (2001: 292) and breathiness seems to be its precursor. Chapter 8 summarises the results and outlines questions for further research.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorYuni Kim (Supervisor), Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero (Supervisor) & Wendell Kimper (Supervisor)


  • pre-aspiration
  • Welsh English
  • breathiness
  • glottalisation

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