A Rhythmic Analysis of Scottish Gaelic Using Durational Metrics

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Languages have long been studied through the rhythm class framework, which discriminates them into separate classes on the basis of shared rhythmic properties. Originally these differences were attributed to

Languages have long been studied through the rhythm class framework, which discriminates them into separate classes on the basis of shared rhythmic properties. Originally these differences were attributed to the isochronous timing of different prosodic units, such as stress intervals in “stress-timed” languages and syllables in “syllable-timed” languages. More recent work has turned to durational metrics as a means of evaluating rhythm class, by measuring the variability and proportion of segmental intervals in the speech stream. Both isochrony and durational metrics are no longer viewed as correlative with natural language rhythm, but durational metrics in particular have remained prevalent in the literature. So long as the conclusions of durational metrics are not overextended, their analysis can provide a useful mechanism for assessing the compatibility of a language with a given rhythm class by way of comparative analysis. This study therefore presents a durational-metric comparison of Scottish Gaelic, a language which has frequently been described as stress-timed but has never been empirically tested for rhythm class, with English, a prototypical and well-studied example of a stress-timed language. The Gaelic metric scores for %V (percentage of vocalic content), ΔV (standard deviation in vocalic interval length), and ΔC (standard deviation in consonantal interval length) (Ramus et al. 1999) are shown to be very similar to those measured for English, indicating that the language displays similar patterns of durational variability and segmental proportion typically ascribed to a rhythmically stress-timed language. This provides clear support for the classification of Scottish Gaelic as stress-timed.