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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 7:02 pm 
Sanci
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A lot of the material on this subject is intensely confusing to me, so I was wondering if we might have a discussion on *what exactly* aspiration even is.

Conventional wisdom is that the difference between voiced, unvoiced, and aspirated consonants is something like this:

Image

But now, hold on. If this is the case, then what exactly are voiced aspirates? What about pre-aspirates? How does pre-aspiration differ from pre-voicing? The idea that aspiration is just late VOT is corroborated by this blogpost. But I don't understand how voiced aspirates, as found in languages like Sanskrit, are related to this.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 7:36 pm 
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As I understand it, voiced aspiration is just a voiced consonant that causes breathy voice phonation on the proceeding vowel.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 9:24 pm 
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I think I recall reading somewhere that the only sort of consonant that can claim to be a voiced aspirate looks something like /bpʰ/, but don't quote me on that. But yeah, Sanskrit's "voiced aspirates" are really just breathy-voiced.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 7:07 am 
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Yeah, "voiced aspirates" aren't really a thing phonetically. You'll often (normally?) see them transcribed /bʱ/ or whatever.

This doesn't, however, mean that it isn't right to describe such consonants as "aspirates" phonologically, if they pattern with the voiceless aspirates as part of the phonological system. I don't know enough about the phonology of the Indian languages to know if that's a reasonable analysis or not.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:21 am 
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It's true that voiced aspiration is just breathy voice. But breathy voice is a related phenomenon to aspiration, and it therefore makes sense for voiced aspirated stops to be referred to as such.

To aspirate a voiceless stop which is immediately before a vowel, you keep the voicelessness going for longer than usual (before initiating the voicing which accompanies the vowel). That means you have to close the glottis more slowly. A natural way to do that is to have the vocal folds further apart than normal when the stop is articulated, so that, even if the glottis is closed at the same speed as normal, the VOT will be higher. So we can also define an aspirated sound as one articulated with greater glottal spread than normal. This theory of aspiration is attributed to Kim (1970) (I don't have access to that paper, but it's cited as such by other papers such as Iverson & Salmons 1995 and Jacques 2011.) It's the reason the contrast between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops is normally represented in terms of distinctive features by the contrast between [+spread glottis] and [-spread glottis].

One of the advantages of this definition is that it also works for aspirated stops in word-final position and before voiceless segments. And it can also be applied to voiced segments. A voiced segment is aspirated if it's articulated with greater glottal spread than normal, and if a segment is articulated with greater glottal spread than normal, but it's still voiced (the vocal folds are close enough that they vibrate), then that's what we call breathy voice. (Breathy voice in Hindi, and presumably other Indo-Aryan languages, is actually not exactly like this: what happens is basically that part of the glottis is closed as if to produce modal voice, but another part of the glottis is open as if to produce voicelessness. But it has a similar acoustic effect, and it's still reasonably to describe it as a [+spread glottis] articulation, it's just that only part of the glottis is spread, and it's spread completely, rather than the whole of the glottis being spread partially.)

As evidence that Indo-Aryan voiced aspirates phonologically pattern with voiceless aspirates, you could probably cite some Grassman's Law examples where a voiced aspirate was deaspirated before a voiceless aspirate or vice versa. I don't know any such examples offhand though.

There is at least one language (Kelabit, see Blust 2006) which has "true" voiced aspirates: these are just voiced stops for which, after or just before the release, the glottis is abruptly opened for a short while, but then closed again in order to voice the following vowel. Essentially, then, they're just voiced stop + [h] clusters which are phonologically unitary phonemes. In Kelabit they are always geminate and intervocalic, and the voicelessness usually begins some time before the release so you have [bpʰ], [tdʰ], etc. But these are very unusual segments.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 4:40 pm 
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Wow! That is an awesome explanation. Thank you so much!

I have one further question though: if all aspiration is, is delayed VOT, then why does aspiration cause the "puff of air" at all? It seems that one could delay VOT without the puff of air.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 5:03 pm 
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duns_scotus wrote:
I have one further question though: if all aspiration is, is delayed VOT, then why does aspiration cause the "puff of air" at all? It seems that one could delay VOT without the puff of air.


Well, because a puff of air is what the blockage-and-release is.

Recall that the lungs are expelling air during the blockage, so air builds up in the mouth. When the oral organs release the stop, that air pushes out, with an audible sound.

(Try this: maintaining a stop like [p], carefully stop breathing out, so there's no pressure buildup. Now do the release. It'll be a weak non-aspirated sound.)


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 5:27 pm 
Sanci
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zompist wrote:
duns_scotus wrote:
I have one further question though: if all aspiration is, is delayed VOT, then why does aspiration cause the "puff of air" at all? It seems that one could delay VOT without the puff of air.


But like, there's no puff after an unaspirated stop. (Or at least, it's marginal). I guess what I'm saying is, what's to stop you from vibrating your vocal cords during the "puff" that accompanies aspiration? Or rather, put another way: couldn't you just begin voicing in the middle of the subsequent vowel after an unaspirated voiceless stop and still delay VOT without producing a puff?

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 9:05 pm 
Smeric
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In fact if you look at a spectrogram, unaspirated stops do have a small puff after them, although it's obviously not as prominent as that of 'aspirated' stops.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 11:03 pm 
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duns_scotus wrote:
zompist wrote:
duns_scotus wrote:
I have one further question though: if all aspiration is, is delayed VOT, then why does aspiration cause the "puff of air" at all? It seems that one could delay VOT without the puff of air.


But like, there's no puff after an unaspirated stop. (Or at least, it's marginal). I guess what I'm saying is, what's to stop you from vibrating your vocal cords during the "puff" that accompanies aspiration? Or rather, put another way: couldn't you just begin voicing in the middle of the subsequent vowel after an unaspirated voiceless stop and still delay VOT without producing a puff?


As your own diagrams show, you can voice anytime. But voicing is louder than the puff.


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