Moroccan Arabic (MA) displays a synchronic consonant harmony alternation where underlying alveolar sibilants can assimilate in place of articulation to a following palatal sibilant, e.g. sezhera ~ shezhera 'tree'. This study investigates the phonetic realization of the assimilated sibilant variant in consonant harmony forms. This consonant harmony process is typologically unusual since avoidance of similarity of root consonants has been proposed to be a pervasive tendency for the Semitic languages, including Arabic. Hence, it is predicted that even though a phonological change has resulted in adjacent stem consonants with identical features, similarity avoidance tendencies will act at the level of the phonetic representation to ensure that adjacent consonants are not articulatorily identical. An acoustic investigation using a center of gravity (COG) measure of MA sibilants was conducted on monolingual MA speakers to test this hypothesis. The results indicate that the harmonized palatal sibilants (i.e., shezhera) are produced with a higher COG, suggesting a further front place of articulation, compared to regular (non-harmonized) palatal sibilants. In other words, the harmonized sibilants exemplify a case of incomplete neutralization, where the phonetic trace of a disappeared consonant remains. Furthermore, these results suggest that similarity avoidance in MA is maintained through sub-phonemic, gradient differences.

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