This dissertation explores the phonetics and phonology of intervocalic consonants in Lheidli, a dialect of Dakelh (Carrier) Athapaskan spoken in the interior of British Columbia. Through a series of studies on Lheidli, I show quantitatively what has previously been noted impressionistically in the Athapaskan literature: intervocalic consonants are remarkably long.
The implication of these consonants for the structure of Lheidli is approached from two perspectives. First, I investigate their role from a purely phonetic approach, focusing on their effect on the perceived rhythmic structure of Lheidli. I propose a new model of rhythm, the Enhancement/Inhibition model, in which the perception of rhythm is created by the interplay between primary and secondary correlates of rhythm. Within the proposed model, the Lheidli data show that one of the important secondary correlates is inherent segmental duration, an element that has not yet been considered in the literature.
Second, I investigate the role of intervocalic consonants from a phonological approach, focusing on their effect on syllabification. I present the results of a series of studies on the distribution of vowel duration and quality, the distribution of consonant duration, native speaker syllabification intuitions, and the interaction between stress placement and intervocalic consonant duration. Together these studies lead me to analyze Lheidli intervocalic consonants as non-contrastive, moraic geminates.
I conclude by discussing the implications of the Lheidli data for phonetic and phonological theory. I argue the duration of intervocalic consonants is encoded in the Lheidli grammar as part of the language-specific phonetics. Furthermore, because this duration interacts with syllabification, it is encoded in the phonology as weight. Although in Lheidli the phonetic duration of intervocalic consonants is encoded in the phonology as well as the grammar, I propose that not all language-specific phonetic properties are specified in the grammar. This is the case for rhythm, for example, which is an effect of other phonetic and phonological factors of the language rather than being a linguistic primitive itself.