Tsilhqut'in ejectives: A descriptive phonetic study




Ham, SooYoun

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Stops are one of the most common sounds across languages of the world. Among these pervasive sounds, ejectives form a unique group that is distinguishable from other types of stops. Their particular mechanism of articulation, such as larynx raising and unusually high oral pressure, separates them from the others. More interestingly, a listener perceives them differently and makes a distinction from non-ejective, or pulmonic, stops. What is it that we perceive when hearing ejectives? Do we perceive certain acoustic cues or auditory qualities that are part of their distinctive phonetic nature? Are these phonetic characteristics always distinctive? In other words, is our perception of the ejectives always consistent without any variation at the phonetic level? Motivated by these questions and from my recent exposure to Tsilhqut’in ejectives, I set out to pursue a phonetic investigation of these intriguing sounds. The present study is composed of two main analyses. One is an acoustic analysis that instrumentally examines a dataset of ejective and non-ejective stops in the Tsilhqut’in language with respect to acoustic dimensions such as Voice Onset Time (VOT) in order to compare all the stop classes in terms of their acoustic properties. Such a comparison helps to phonetically characterize the ejectives within the language. The acoustic measures also enable us to compare the characteristics of Tsilhqut’in ejectives with those in other languages, based on previously reported acoustic correlates. In order to determine the characteristics of ejectives across languages, Tsilhqut’in ejectives were compared with ejectives in different languages (e.g., Inguish). The other analysis is auditory, whereby I have examined how I perceived a subset of the ejectives taken out of the whole dataset and compared my auditory judgments with the acoustic measurements in order to find any correlation between results from the two analyses. The findings of the study indicate that Tsilhqut’in ejectives do not follow a traditional binary typology of ejectives. That is, they are neither strong nor weak, as is often claimed in the literature. They are congruent with what recent studies (e.g., Warner 1996) have found of ejectives in other languages – phonetic variability. This means that the dichotomy cannot account for the variability in ejectives at the phonetic level and that an optimal way of classifying ejectives across languages still awaits discovery. To the best of my knowledge, no other phonetic study has been conducted on Tsilhqut’in ejectives prior to the current study. Moreover, there has been little research or documentation carried out on any other phonetic aspects or sounds of this Athabaskan language. I expect that this instrumental study will contribute to the field of linguistics by adding new phonetic knowledge about such a rarely studied language, and I also expect the present study to play a role in the understanding of language learning and of language revitalization around the world.



ejectives, stops, articulation, typology, auditory impressions, acoustic analysis, phonetic correlates, Athabaskan, language acquisition and revitalization, articulatory examination