More than Words: The Effect of Multi-word Frequency and Constituency on Phonetic Duration

Inbal Arnon*, Uriel Cohen Priva

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


There is mounting evidence that language users are sensitive to the distributional properties of multi-word sequences. Such findings expand the range of information speakers are sensitive to and call for processing models that can represent larger chains of relations. In the current paper we investigate the effect of multi-word statistics on phonetic duration using a combination of experimental and corpus-based research. We ask (a) if phonetic duration is affected by multi-word frequency in both elicited and spontaneous speech, and (b) if syntactic constituency modulates the effect. We show that phonetic durations are reduced in higher frequency sequences, regardless of constituency: duration is shorter for more frequent sequences within and across syntactic boundaries. The effects are not reducible to the frequency of the individual words or substrings. These findings open up a novel set of questions about the interaction between surface distributions and higher order properties, and the resulting need (or lack thereof) to incorporate higher order properties into processing models.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)349-371
Number of pages23
JournalLanguage and Speech
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Speech production
  • emergentist models
  • multi-word frequency
  • phonetic duration


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