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The versatility of creaky phonation: Segmental, prosodic, and sociolinguistic uses in the world's languages

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Abstract Creaky phonation (also known as creaky voice, vocal fry, laryngealization, or glottalization) is a voice quality that refers to shortened and thickened vocal folds that vibrate at a low and quasi‐regular fundamental frequency with a long period of damping. Cross‐linguistically, creaky phonation can span either short or long domains. When implemented on individual vowels or consonants (as in Zapotec or Montana Salish), it can signal phonemic contrast with other voice qualities, or it can be an additional acoustic cue to enhance other contrasts, such as tone (as in Mandarin or Cantonese). Another segmental use of creaky phonation in many languages is as a variant of glottal stop. Creaky phonation can also be implemented as a prosodic element that signals the end of a phrase (as in English or Mandarin), or indicates relinquishing a conversational turn (as in Finnish). It can also express meaning in a social interaction, such as irritation (in Vietnamese). Lastly, creaky phonation can be deployed as a sociolinguistic marker to establish identities, convey affect, or distinguish one speech group from another within the same language. In some social circumstances, such as the perception that young women use creaky phonation at greater rates than men do, it can be evaluated negatively by listeners. As creaky phonation can be combined with linguistic elements at various levels and is easily perceptible, it has taken on a remarkable number of roles in our linguistic repertoires. This article is categorized under: Linguistics > Language in Mind and Brain
Illustration of some harmonics that are used in spectral tilt measures. “H” refers to the first, second, fourth (etc.) harmonic, and “A” refers to the amplitude of the harmonic closest to the first, second, and third formants
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Example of glottalized nasal ([ˀm]) in Montana Salish ([ʔeˀmt], “feed”)
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Examples of vowels in Tlacolulita Zapotec with modal phonation (left, [bæ̂l] “fish”) and creaky phonation on the last half of the vowel (right, [bǽ̰l], “snake”)
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Glottal stops in Hawaiian. (Top) [he ʔumi] he 'umi (mākou) “we are ten,” with a full glottal stop (Bottom) [heʔeia] He'eia (place name on O'ahu), produced as a sequence of modal–creaky–modal phonation
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Examples of creak types in English phrases and sentence. The waveform corresponds to the segments marked with underlining in the caption; lines between the images indicate where in the spectrogram the waveform comes from. While individual utterances may contain more than one type of creaky phonation, the type of creaky phonation that was observed (based on Keating et al., 2015) in the underlined segments is noted in the caption for each image. Italics in the transcription indicate the words that are produced with creaky phonation. (a) “trodden road.” Prototypical creak. (b) “and have been married for 50 years now.” Vocal fry. (c) “I can't do that anymore.” Aperiodic. (d) “was their doing entirely.” Multiply pulsed
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