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Palatalization and prepalatalization in Estonian spontaneous speech

The study focuses on the characteristic features of consonant palatalization in spontaneous Estonian. In Standard Estonian, coarticulatory palatalization occurs with alveolar consonants lnst (d) which are palatalized at the syllable boundary before and j, e.g. pal'ju ’a lot of’, tel'lis ’he/she ordered’, pań’he/she put’ (palatalization is marked with an acute). In i-stem nouns where i has disappeared due to apocope in the nominative case, palatalization also occurs word-finally, e.g. końt ’bone, sg.nom.’ : kondi ’bone, sg.gen.’.

The materials for the current analysis come from the Tartu University Phonetic Corpus of Estonian Spontaneous Speech. Two types of i-stem words where in the nominative case a stem vowel is missing were analysed in detail. The results show that in the (C)VVCÍ words prepalatalization occurs in 30 % of the cases, where an i-like transition phase constitutes 28 % of the total duration of the vowel. In (C)VCÍC words an i-like transition is present in almost all cases. An i-like transition phase constitutes 46 % of the total duration of a vowel and the stable phase in vowel formants cannot always be found. Similarly to previous studies of Estonian laboratory speech (e.g. Eek 1972; Lehiste 1965; Liiv 1965a) it appears that in the case of palatalization the vowel before a consonant is longer and the transition phase exhibits a rise in the F2 values of the vowel.

Our results also show that an i-like transition vowel regularly occurs before a palatalized consonant. Generally Estonian palatalization is rather weak as compared to the neighbouring Indo-European languages such as Latvian and Russian. The prepalatalization of consonants is related to a broader tendency towards depalatalization of consonants.