VOT in relation to the release of the closure

VOT of English stops as produced by second language learners of English

1- Introduction:

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       This study is designed to investigate the VOT of English voiced stops as produced by second language learners of English. In general, the study is interested in showing the effect of the mother tongue on some participants producing voiced stops in English in term of VOT and comparing them with results of native speakers producing the same stop. The researcher will rely on some previous studies to get a general overview of the topic. There will be 6 participants (three males and three females). The subjects will pronounce a set of words consisting of the three English voiced stops (b, d, and g). Their voice will be recorded and then analyzed using the Praat program to measure the time of the stop. After that, the researcher will compare between the pronounced words by the two individuals and show the results. At the end, the researcher will make a discussion about any differences appear in the analysis process.


1.1 Theoretical background:

       Voice Onset Time (VOT) is the time when the voicing starts in relation to the release of the closure for stop consonants. Voiced stops have negative VOT because the vocal folds vibrate during the closure interval before the release of the closure whereas voiceless stops have positive VOT as the vibration of the vocal folds is delayed after the release of the stop closure. If the vibration of the vocal folds takes place at the time of the closure release, VOT is zero which results in an unaspirated voiceless stop (Alghamdi, 1990).


       Lisker and Abramson (1964) studied VOT in eleven languages. They divided languages with a two-way contrast in VOT into two groups: languages which have long positive VOT for voiceless stops and short positive or zero VOT for voiced stops such as English; and languages which have short positive VOT for voiceless stops and negative VOT for voiced stops such as Dutch. They also differentiated between three categories of stops according to voice onset time: Negative VOT between -125 and -75 ms for voiced stops, positive VOT between 0 and 25 ms for voiceless unaspirated stops, and positive VOT between 60 and 100 ms for voiceless aspirated stops. In addition, they found that as the place of articulation moves back from the lips to the velum, the VOT for voiceless stops increases. In Arabic, voiced stops are produced with voicing lead (nearly fully voiced); however, there are significant differences between different Arabic dialects in the duration of voicing lag of voiceless stops (Alghamdi, 1990).


1.2 Literature review:

       Al-Ani (1970) did the first experimental work in Arabic phonetics. He studied the phonology of standard Arabic as used in Iraq. Al-Ani was the primary informant for his experiments. Stops were investigated in isolated words. He found a VOT of 60-80 ms for /k/, and a range between -60 and -110 ms for /b/. In the final position, /b/ found to be voiced or voiceless, released or unreleased. He found a VOT of 40-60 ms for /t/, and a VOT value range between -80 and -100 ms for /d/.

       Yeni-Komshian, Caramaza, and Preston (1977) studied voicing in Lebanese Arabic. They investigated the production and perception of stop consonants. In the production experiment, participants were asked to read a text containing stop consonants in an initial position. In their comparison between /t/ vs. /d/, they found an overlap in VOT values of 0 to 30 ms. they suggested that VOT is not the only acoustic cue used in distinguishing between homorganic stops due to the overlap in the production of these homorganic stops observed in their study. They also investigated initial stops in three different vowel environments where stop consonants were followed by /a/, /u/, and /i/. They found that VOT is longer for voiceless stops preceding front vowels than those preceding back vowels. They also reported that there was a slight sign for the tendency that the VOT for voiceless stops increases as the place of articulation moves back in the vocal tract.

              Flege (1979) studied voicing contrast in the Saudi Arabian Najdi dialect as well as the voicing contrast of English stops produced by Saudi Arabians in his study of the interference in second language acquisition. In the Arabic experiment, he investigated stop consonants in initial and final positions. Six native Saudi Arabian speakers read the test words included in carrier sentences. The test words were of the form CV (V) C where the stop consonants were preceded or followed by the short vowel /a/ or the long vowel /a?/. He found a VOT of 36.8 ms for /t/, and 52.4 ms for /k/. In word-initial position /b/ and /d/ were produced with 100% voicing during the closure interval which had a VOT of -85ms and -82ms respectively. In their investigation of the closure duration, they found that voiceless stops were 10 ms longer than voiced stops.

       Mitleb (2001) investigated VOT in Jordanian Arabic alveolar and velar stops. Four native speakers of the Jordanian dialect were asked to read isolated words where stop consonants were word initially followed by /a/ or /a?/. He found that VOT is shorter before short vowels which he attributed to the fact that vowel length is phonemic in Arabic. In addition, his results regarding the effect of place of articulation on VOT values differ from the tendency noticed in other languages. Lisker and Abramson (1964) noticed that VOT duration increases as the place of articulation move back from the lips to the velum for voiceless stop consonants. However, Mitleb (2001) found no significant difference between VOT values of alveolar and velar stops in both vowel environments. Before short vowels, he found a VOT of 37 ms for /t/, and 39 ms for /k/; whereas, before long vowels, the VOT for /t/ was 64 ms and 60 ms for /k/. A similar tendency was found for the difference between /d/, and /g/ where the VOT of /d/ was -10 ms, and for /g/ it was -15 ms before short vowels, and before long vowels there was a VOT of -23 ms for /d/, and -20 ms for /g/. He explained this difference as being due to the language-specific tendency.

2- Statement of the study:

       The researcher is aiming to investigate the VOT in the three English voiced stops to see if their first language affects the quality of producing these voices. Also, to see if there is a difference between male and female duration in producing the stop sounds.

3- The significant of the study:

       The main object of this study is to identify if there are any differences between the VOT between the native speakers (Results from previous studies) and the second language learners. In addition, the study will show if there is a difference in VOT duration between males and females.

4- Question of the study:

The current study attempt to answer the following questions:
A- Are there any influences of the first language (Arabic) on producing English stops?B- Are there any differences between males and females in producing English stops according to the VOT duration?

5- Limitation of the study:

       First of all, the researcher was thinking that the number of samples will be enough to get the needed information. But, to be able to give a generalization we need more samples in order to offer clear results. Another issue is the words that stops were used in. It would be better to investigate the stops in the middle of the sentence and at the end of it. Also, stops followed by consonants and other vowels. Because most of the vowels followed the stops in this experiment were long vowels.

6- The Methodology:

6.1 The participants:
      Six naïve Arabic speakers took part in this study (three males and three females). All the participants are speaking English as a second language and studied English at Yarmouk University. None of the participants was a smoker, having a problem with speaking and hearing or having flu and sore throat. The words were recorded four times.

6.2 Material

       The voiced stops – B, D, and G – were examined in four initial words followed by four different vowels (Appendix 1). The participants produced the words four times for each word to ensure that there isn’t any external interference.


6.3 The results

          According to the males, the three participants show different results. P1 showed negative VOT in producing the letters d and g despite the difference in the vowel that follows the stop. The average VOT for the letter ”d” was -96ms while the average VOT for the letter ”g” was -83ms. Figure 1 shows the VOT for P1 for the letter ”b” in the word ”beat”. It’s clear that it’s a short positive VOT. This was the only voiced stop that didn’t affect the first language.  

P2 showed negative VOT in producing the three voiced stops. The average VOT for the b, d, and g were
-110ms, -162ms, and – 155ms respectively. It indicates that the participant’s pronunciation is affected by the first language. The last participant presented two negative VOT in ”b” and ”d” while a short positive VOT in ”g”. The mean VOT for the ”b” was -85ms whereas – 113ms for ”d”. Figure 2 illustrates the short positive VOT for the “g” in the word ”geek” that was 21ms.

          Referring to females, all females participants showed negative VOT for the three voiced stops. But, participant two showed a short positive VOT in the ”b” stop in the word ”beat” (figure 2). The average VOT for P1, P2 and P3 for the stop ”b”, ”d” and ”g” was -78ms, -68ms and -65ms respectively.    


7- Analysis:


8- Recommendation:

In this research, the investigator was planning to consider the vowel that follows or precedes the stop in order to see if there is an effect on the VOT duration. The researcher recommends answering the following question in the future ”are there any differences in VOT duration if we change the vowels that follow or precede the stop?”. Some previous researchers were argued on this point. For instance, Mitleb (2001) found that following long vowels had a significant lengthening effect on the VOT of both voiced and voiceless consonants. Otherwise, Rifaat (2003) showed evidence that following vowel length does not have any significant effect on VOT.












Al-Ani, S.H. (1970). Arabic phonology: An acoustical and physiological investigation. The Hague: Mouton.

Alghamdi, M. (1990). Analysis, synthesis and perception of voicing in Arabic. PhD thesis, Department of Linguistic Science, University of Reading.

Flege, J. E. (1979). Phonetic interference in second language acquisition. PhD thesis, Indiana University.

Lisker, L., & Abramson, A. S. (1964). A Cross-Language Study of Voicing in Initial Stops: Acoustical Measurements. WORD, 20(3), 384-422.

Mitleb, F. M. (2001). Voice Onset Time of Jordanian Arabic Stops. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 109(5), 2474.

Rifaat, K. (2003). Voice Onset Time in Egyptian Arabic: A Case where Phonological Categories Dominate. Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 791-794.

Rifaat, K. (2003). Voice Onset Time in Egyptian Arabic: A Case where Phonological Categories Dominate. Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 791-794.

Yeni-Komshian, G. H., Caramaza, A., & Preston, M. S. (1977). A study of voicing in Lebanese Arabic, Journal of Phonetics 5:1, 35-48.





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