A frequently replicated finding is that higher frequency words tend to be shorter and contain more strongly reduced vowels. However, little is known about potential differences in the articulatory gestures for high vs. low frequency words. The present study made use of electromagnetic articulography to investigate the production of two German vowels, [i] and [a], embedded in high and low frequency words. We found that word frequency differently affected the production of [i] and [a] at the temporal as well as the gestural level. Higher frequency of use predicted greater acoustic durations for long vowels; reduced durations for short vowels; articulatory trajectories with greater tongue height for [i] and more pronounced downward articulatory trajectories for [a]. These results show that the phonological contrast between short and long vowels is learned better with experience, and challenge both the Smooth Signal Redundancy Hypothesis and current theories of German phonology.
Bibliographic reference. Tomaschek, Fabian / Wieling, Martijn / Arnold, Denis / Baayen, R. Harald (2013): "Word frequency, vowel length and vowel quality in speech production: an EMA study of the importance of experience", In INTERSPEECH-2013, 1302-1306.