41st Annual Conference of the German Linguistic Society

University of Bremen, 6 – 8 March 2019


Workshop Descriptions as PDF

Workshop 6: Factors influencing the stability of phonetic contrasts and phonemic oppositions

Workshop Coordination

Stefanie Jannedy (ZAS Berlin)
Melanie Weirich (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)

Invited Speakers:


Three areas research seem be especially promising with regard to exploring the stability of phonetic contrasts and phonemic oppositions:

  1. typological deliberations and within-system oppositions;
  2. category (in-)stability in speech perception – especially in the context of added/co-presented extra-linguistic information; and
  3. intra- and inter-speaker variability in speech production.

From a typological perspective, some phonemic oppositions are undoubtedly rarer than others but the question as to why this is the case remains a recurring topic in the fields of typology and phonetics/phonology. Recent advances in the testing of phonetic explanations for diachronic sound changes that shape a phoneme inventory have identified a link to the misparsing of coarticulation (Kleber et al. 2012).

This is related to the accumulating evidence from speech perception research suggesting that the stability of an opposition of a phonetic contrast is somewhat compromised because perceptual categories are flexible and highly dependent on contextual information (Jannedy and Weirich 2014).

The third area of relevance is the intra-and inter-speaker variability among others connected to different speech registers (i.e. formal vs. informal), addressees (i.e. child vs. adult directed speech), and speaker characteristics such as gender, age, dialect, ethnic background etc. (Weirich and Simpson 2017).

This workshop addresses the challenge of investigating the realization and loss of contrast and opposition in speech and the various conditioning factors of what makes oppositions and contrasts stable or instable. It will provide a forum for all linguists (phonetics/phonology, typology, computational modeling, psycholinguistics, dialectology, historical linguistics) interested in the causes (system-internal and extra-linguistic factors) leading to phonemic stability or instability consequently influencing the linguistic system.