A unified model of lenition as modulation reduction. Gauging consonant strength in Ibibio


We review and elaborate an account of consonantal strength that is founded on the model of speech as a modulated carrier signal. The stronger the consonant, the greater the modulation. Unlike approaches based on sonority or articulatory aperture, the account offers a uniform definition of the phonetic effect lenition has on consonants: all types of lenition (such as debuccalisation, spirantisation, and vocalisation) reduce the extent to which a consonant modulates the carrier. To demonstrate the quantifiability of this account, we present an analysis of Ibibio, in which we investigate the effects of lenition on the amplitude, periodicity, and temporal properties of consonants. We propose a method for integrating these different acoustic dimensions within an overall measure of modulation size. Not only does the modulated-carrier account cover all the classically recognised lenition types, but it also encompasses loss of plosive release in final stops – which, although not traditionally classed as lenition, is clearly related to processes that are.