Review of Pire Teras "Lõunaeesti vokaalisüsteem. Võru pikkade vokaalide kvaliteedi muutumine" ("The Southern Estonian vowel system: quality change in the long vowels Võru dialect"), Dissertationes philologiae Estonicae Universitatis Tartuensis 11 (2003).  

Diana Krull

Keel ja Kirjandus 10 (2003): 783-784.


In contrast to Standard Estonian, long and short vowels may differ considerably in quality in Estonian dialects. Also the change in quality may depend on quantity: overlong vowels are, for example, often diphthongized, or, as in Võru dialect, raised. Pire Teras gives a good overview of these phenomena in general and in Estonian and its dialects in particular.

The material of the present thesis consists of spontaneous speech, isolated vowels and words embedded in read text. Acoustic measurements, including vowel duration and the first four formants, were performed on the 10 long (Q2) and 10 overlong (Q3) vowels of the Võru dialect. Pire Teras also carried out two perception tests where isolated vowels read by one speaker and words cut out of texts read by four speakers were used as stimuli. The results show that Võru mid vowels are raised in overlong quantity so as to be acoustically very near and perceptually indistinguishable from high vowels. As a consequence, the raised mid vowels can, according to the author, be treated as allophones of the corresponding high vowels.

Pire Teras' thesis is valuable both because it addresses a question that has interested Estonian researchers for a long time, and because of the careful analysis methods the author has used. In addition, it embraces a large amount of data in different speaking styles, including spontaneous speech.

There are, however, two points that I found open to question. (1)Is it legitimate to use forms not possible in a given language or dialect, in this case, isolated Q2 vowels, as stimuli in perception tests? (2) Can the phonological status of the raised vowels be determined on the basis of perception tests alone?

The thesis as a whole will certainly encourage future research. In particular, a phenomenon that the author has drawn attention to, namely the "trading relation" between quality and quantity in Võru vowels: greater difference in quality calling for less difference in quantity and vice versa. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in the world's languages, but it is nonexistent in Standard Estonian and has not been studied in Estonian dialects.

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