Regarding the horizontal axis, and within the same high, I'd like to know whether back vowels (e.g. /ɤ/) are more sonorous than front ones (e.g. /e/).

  • Do you mean back vowels vs. front vowel, or back round versus front unrounded? Your examples are ambiguous. – user6726 Dec 7 '17 at 15:15
  • Is roundedness a contrastive feature for sonority as well? – GJC Dec 7 '17 at 15:38
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    Yes, rounding decreases sonority. – user6726 Dec 7 '17 at 16:25
  • @user6726 O.k., now could you answer the question please? what about the horizontal axis? I know there's an actual trapezoidal scheme, so the scale should be inferred taking that into account – GJC Dec 7 '17 at 17:59
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    This requires some quality time at the library. The only well-established pattern relates to height; we know that backness and roundness can on occasion be relevant, but tracking down the facts is not trivial. – user6726 Dec 7 '17 at 19:58

There is some evidence indicating that back vowels are more sonorous than front vowels, although the relation could also be based on round (more sonorous) vs non-round, since the data comes from Modern Greek where back and round correlate in the typical way. This is discussed in E. Kaisse's Harvard dissertation.

There is a general phenomenon of hiatus resolution whereby V#V sequences reduce to a single vowel by deleting one of the two vowels. Which vowel deletes depends on the properties of the vowels; there is also variation between dialects; there are multiple rules that implement this hiatus-resolution plan; and there are different syntactic conditions on the different rules. The general pattern (most pan-Greek) is that the "more sonorous" vowel is retained, and the hierarchy of vowels, in terms of sonority, is [a > o > u > e > i]. Examples of this here come from Peloponnesian (glosses are my construction based on available information from Kaisse).

/ta éxo/ → [táxo] (I have them); /me aγapái/ → [maγapái] (he loves me); /ta onirévome → [tanirévome] (I dream of them); /to alázo/ → [talázo] (I change it); /to urliazi/ → torliázi] (?he howls it); /tu oðiγó/ → [toðiγó] (I lead to him); /mu éðosa/ → [múðosa] (he gave to me)

Interestingly, the system is rather different in Urban Athenian, which has more specific sandhi processes and a different sonority hierarchy, viz [o > a > u > i > e]. There are other claims regarding sonority-based vowel rules in Greek such as assimilation in Cretan which confirms the general pattern though collapsing /e,i/ into a single position. The interesting thing about the Greek pattern is that it seems to contradict the typical functional explanation for the effect, that more sonorous vowels have a more open vocal tract. Round vowels have a more closed vocal tract. If "scale" effects are always based on sonority, then this calls into question the functional explanation.

The other type of oft-cited evidence regarding sonority is that schwa is often treated differently in stress systems, viz. is skipped for stress. This leads some to say that central vowels are particularly non-sonorous, but that does not address back vs. front.

  • Do you have any link for Kaisse? I didn't find it here – b a Apr 8 '18 at 9:22
  • Unfortunately, it's not available through Proquest. – user6726 Apr 8 '18 at 13:40

Taking into account the theory of distinctive features, all vowels have the same sonority. Since the distinctive features are binary, or is - or is + sonorous.

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    So you're saying that the notion of a rising vs. falling diphthong is spurious? – user6726 Dec 8 '17 at 5:01
  • No, it is not a spurious notion, but the difference between raised diphthongs and fallen diphthongs is in the prominence, not in the sonority. So the difference is more suprasegmental than segmental. – Jean Gotopo Dec 11 '17 at 5:19

Supposing that in English, unstressed vowels are backed, and flaps are more sonorous than unflapped [t], and that flapping of [t] is assimilatory in "petty", etc. vs. no flapping in "petite", then this suggests that back vowels are more sonorous than front vowels.

  • "Potty, booty" indicate the preceding vowel backness does not condition flapping. – user6726 Dec 9 '17 at 5:12
  • @user6726 True. I suppose it's clear I was referring to the unstressed vowel that follows the flap. I should have mentioned that the flapping of a word-final t before a stressed vowel in the next word ("at Akron", "fat eagle") is a problem unless syllable structure is taken into account. – Greg Lee Dec 9 '17 at 14:57
  • "Spitoon" alongside "petite"; "motto" alongside "petty" pose the same problem. – user6726 Dec 9 '17 at 15:16

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