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 Table 1: Tahltan consonants. Highlighted columns participate in the three-way har- mony; those left unshaded are transparent to harmony. The orthography used draws on three characters commonly used in Americanist traditions. These differ from the International Phonetic Alphabet as follows: ž for ʒ, š for ʃ, and y for j. first. Language documentation efforts have been on the upswing in recent years, but phonetic studies have not been as obviously useful as the collection of texts and the mak- ing of dictionaries. As more commu- nities try to revive their languages from documentary sources, it is becoming increasingly clear that phonetic documentation can con- tribute in valuable ways to describ- ing the pronunciation of the ances- tral language. Furthermore, many endangered languages lack writing systems, and good phonetic descrip- tions can often help guide their development. Contributing to community literacy is a frequent concrete aim. The scien- tific goals of the academic community often overlap with the revitalization goals of native communities. In this paper, we will discuss two phonetic studies of endangered languages. Both studies use articulatory and acoustic data to examine specific scientific questions. The first study uses ultrasound, while the second uses acoustic data coupled with electroglottography (EGG). Ultrasound study of tongue shape in Tahltan Tahltan (ISO 639 code tht) is an Athapaskan language of northern British Columbia, spoken by fewer than 20 elders as their first language. Some younger community members are learning the language as a second language, and the elders are hopeful that the language can be revived. There are three main dialects, and one of them, Telegraph Creek (see Fig. 1), has one of the world’s few three-way consonant harmony sys- tems. Harmony is a linguistic process in which sounds in a word have to agree on, or “harmonize with,” certain dimen- sions. Vowel harmony is fairly common across languages, large and small. Some forms are rather limited, such as the umlaut process of German, while systems that affect all vow- els can be found in some languages like Turkish. In Turkish, Fig. 1. View of the Tuya River crossing heading into Telegraph Creek, British Columbia, Canada. all vowels in a word should have the same frontness (the vow- els of “bee” and “bay” are front, those of “boo” and “though” are back), although there are exceptions. Some affixes agree in rounding as well. (The English front vowels are unround- ed; the back ones are rounded; Turkish has front rounded and back unrounded vowels.) Less common is consonant harmony, in which one or more features of the non-vowel sounds have to agree. Most such systems have two sounds that have to agree (say an “s” and an “sh”), but a handful have a three-way system of agreement. All verb stems in Tahltan that contain fricatives (sounds like “s” and “sh”) have to come from the same “series”—one that has “th” sounds (like in “thing”), “s” sounds or “sh” sounds (Shaw, 1991). It sounds simple, but Tahltan has 46 consonants, 15 of which participate in the harmony while the others are “transparent” to it in that they neither change nor stop the harmony (Table 1). When vowel harmony is at issue, it is easy to imagine that the consonants are overlaid on top of vowels and that the vowels are really adjacent underneath. With consonants, it seems instead that these segments are acting “at a distance,” reaching across vowels that make use of the same articulator—the tongue—that the consonants Fig. 2. Data collection from speaker Margery Inkster with a portable ultrasound machine. The probe is held under the chin, giving a view across the tongue.   36 Acoustics Today, October 2011 

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