People can discern wether a plosive is /p t k/ by formant transition of a vowel. While how do people discern them, if it is a consonant cluster of few plosives without any voicing, as [pt] or even some voiceless random sequences such as [ptkpktpkpt]?

2 Answers 2


Richard Wright discusses this w.r.t. Tsou, which has a number of initial stop clusters, e.g. pka:ko "to escape", tpihi "mend cloth" (and other kinds of clusters, but stop clusters are the most challenging). There are a number of strategies for making consonants without vowel transitions perceptible, and in the case of stop clusters, there is a high-amplitude release burst between the consonants, which carries sufficient information to allow identifying the pre-consonantal consonant.


The burst intensity and duration can be features that can be discriminating. There is also the number of bursts that can be taken into account. [k] has generally multiple bursts.

  • Does duration really figure? Isn't it the initial noise spectrum that is most discriminating of plosives?
    – amI
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 4:52
  • Do you mean this noise (=burst) has not duration?
    – amegnunsen
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 11:21
  • No -- I was asking if the duration is different for different plosives, making it a discriminatory feature, or are spectral differences during the initial burst the only real discriminant (with the durative noise having little or no discerning effect).
    – amI
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 0:52
  • 1
    There are some studies showing that the burst duration increases from [p] to [t] to [k]. There is also a relation between the intensity and the duration, the stronger is the intensity, the longer is the duration. The stress, the phonetic context and the position can play a role in the burst duration. Well, it is true sometimes the burst is not visible, so the duration cannot be measured, but it is the same thing for the frequencies.
    – amegnunsen
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 16:21

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