Vowels in hyperspace?

I have seen Han Solo make the jump to hyperspace many times, but faster-than-light travel never struck me as something that could be relevant to phonetics. Imagine my surprise when I encountered the following articles in Linguistic Bibliography Online:

    • The hyperspace effect : phonetic targets are hyperarticulated
    • Het hyperspace-effect verdwijnt bij keuzebeperking (‘The hyperspace effect disappears after choice restriction’)
    • Vowel production and perception : hyperarticulation without a hyperspace effect

So what is phonetic hyperspace? While images spring to mind of vowels happily floating around in space, or faster-than-light traveling consonants leaving your mouth even before you collect your thoughts, I suspect that there is a slight chance that I might be wrong and decide to investigate this concept a bit further. Phonetic hyperspace turns out to be the “extreme vowel space” corresponding to hyperarticulated phonetic targets in a spectral diagram:

spectral diagram
(From: Johnson et al. 1993: 520)

In other words, hyperspace is filled with non-typical realizations of a vowel just floating around the space surrounding the prototypical vowel (maybe my first guess wasn’t that far off after all). Strangely, when listeners are asked to choose a phonetic variant to represent a particular vowel, i.e. a “best exemplar”, they often prefer the hyperarticulated vowels occupying extreme vowel spaces over the “normal” variants found in natural production, including their own! This perceptual vowel space expansion is known as the hyperspace effect.

This might not be as exciting as faster-than-light travel, but just remember that next time you’re watching a science fiction movie you’ll have a way to subtly steer the conversation to linguistics (your friends will thank you).

Eline van der Veken
Editor of Brill’s Linguistic Bibliography


Brandenburg, Daan; Hoeks, John C. J.; Gilbers, Dirk G.: Het hyperspace-effect verdwijnt bij keuzebeperking. – Tabu : bulletin voor Nederlandse taalkunde 39/3-4, 2011, 149-159 | The hyperspace effect disappears after choice restriction

Frieda, Elaina M.; Walley, Amanda C.; Flege, James Emil; Sloane, Michael E.: Adults’ perception and production of the English vowel /i/. – Journal of speech, language, and hearing research 43/3, 2000, 129-143.

Johnson, Keith; Flemming, Edward S.; Wright, Richard A.: The hyperspace effect : phonetic targets are hyperarticulated. – Language 69/3, 1993, 505-528.

Whalen, Douglas H.; Magen, Harriet S.; Pouplier, Marianne; Kang, A. Min; Iskarous, Khalil: Vowel production and perception : hyperarticulation without a hyperspace effect. – Language and speech 47/2, 2004, 155-174.

Cuddling with words and phrases

Everybody seems to have an individual way of speaking in terms of which words somebody uses, a so called idiolect. Sometimes it is just fashion and the words might change over time but for the case of learning a foreign language for example learners tend to use some words more frequently than native speakers would do in comparison. For me personally it is e. g.  precisely or very in English or precies or heel in Dutch: Common and very (1) frequently applicable words, yet very (2) vague concerning their meaning. Confronted with this phenomenon I came across the term ‘lexical teddy bear’ coined by Anita Hasselgren in an article about the differences of advanced Norwegian English learners’ and native English speakers’ vocabulary (cf. Hasselgren 1994: 237). Often those words are learnt in a very! (3! and here we go again) early stage and speakers tend to stick to applying of those phrases and words wherever possible because they feel safe to use them. Hasselgren (1994) calls this phenomenon ‘lexical teddy bears’, words, which are comfortable for us to apply as they are “widely usable, and above all safe (because they do not show up as errors)” (p. 250).  This can be observed for the employment of verbs, too, as Ellis (2012) highlights with the following figure.

Fig. Ellis 2012: 36
Fig. Ellis 2012: 36

So as Hasselgren (1994) puts it: “stripped of the confidence and ease we take for granted in our first language flow, we regularly clutch for the words we feel safe with: our ‘lexical teddy bears’” (p. 237) and go on cuddling with our most favourite multi-purpose words we carry around with us all the time to give us an impression of childlike security. Isn’t that cute!

For further reading explore the literature below.

Jonas Schreiber (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)
Intern at Brill’s Linguistic Bibliography


Ellis, Nick C.: Formulaic language and second language acquisition : Zipf and the phrasal teddy bear. – Annual review of applied linguistics 32, 2012, 17-44.

Hasselgren, Anita: Lexical teddy bears and advanced learners : a study into the ways Norwegian students cope with English vocabulary. – International journal of applied linguistics 4/2, 1994, 237-260.

Millar, Neil: ‘Lexical teddy bears’ and the processability of learner language by native speakers. – Studies in foreign language education 38, 2016, 17-28. URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2241/00138416