Quantitative Acoustic versus Deep Learning Metrics of Lenition


Spanish voiced stops /b, d, ɡ/ surfaced as fricatives [β, ð, ɣ] in intervocalic position due to a phonological process known as spirantization or, more broadly, lenition. However, conditioned by various factors such as stress, place of articulation, flanking vowel quality, and speaking rate, phonetic studies reveal a great deal of variation and gradience of these surface forms, ranging from fricative-like to approximant-like [βT, ðT, ɣT]. Several acoustic measurements have been used to quantify the degree of lenition, but none is standard. In this study, the posterior probabilities of sonorant and continuant phonological features in a corpus of Argentinian Spanish estimated by a deep learning Phonet model as measures of lenition were compared to traditional acoustic measurements of intensity, duration, and periodicity. When evaluated against known lenition factors: stress, place of articulation, surrounding vowel quality, word status, and speaking rate, the results show that sonorant and continuant posterior probabilities predict lenition patterns that are similar to those predicted by relative acoustic intensity measures and are in the direction expected by the effort-based view of lenition and previous findings. These results suggest that Phonet is a reliable alternative or additional approach to investigate the degree of lenition.