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Finding Grammar Amidst Optionality and Opacity: High-vowel tenseness in Laurentian French
Laurentian French (also commonly called Canadian French, Quebec French or Québécois) is characterised by a complex combination of processes affecting the tense/lax quality of high vowels. Laxing in word-final syllables is completely predictable, but laxing in non-final syllables combines optionality and opacity through harmony (local and non-local), disharmony, retensing, and vowel deletion. While laxing processes have received considerable attention in the literature (e.g. Dumas, 1987; Poliquin, 2006; Fast, 2008; Bosworth 2011), all quantitative data currently available are from acceptability judgments that Poliquin collected, rather than from production. The lack of production data stems from tense and lax high vowels not being possible to classify using one or two acoustic dimensions (Arnaud et al., 2011; Sigouin, 2013).
In collaboration with Peter Milne, a forced aligner was trained on tense and lax high vowels in final syllables (where tenseness is fully predictable) to classify tokens in non-final syllables, thereby creating the first corpus annotated for high-vowel tenseness. Drawing on 24,000 words with high vowels in non-final syllables, I refute Poliquin’s (2006) proposal that learners have insufficient input to generate a grammar that includes the phonological processes affecting high-vowel tenseness. I demonstrate that the community-level grammar a learner is expected to acquire largely reflects the broad processes proposed in the literature, but that certain aspects of those processes differ those suggested in the literature (e.g. the directionality of local harmony). I finally argue that these processes are phonological in nature; they cannot be explained purely in terms of undershoot or (non-phonologised) coarticulation.