Phonetic Alignment and Similarity

The computation of the optimal phonetic alignment and the phonetic similarity between words is an important step in many applications in computational phonology, including dialectometry. After discussing several related algorithms, I present a novel approach to the problem that employs a scoring scheme for computing phonetic similarity between phonetic segments on the basis of multivalued articulatory phonetic features. The scheme incorporates the key concept of feature salience, which is necessary to properly balance the importance of various features. The new algorithm combines several techniques developed for sequence comparison: an extended set of edit operations, local and semiglobal modes of alignment, and the capability of retrieving a set of near-optimal alignments. On a set of 82 cognate pairs, it performs better than comparable algorithms reported in the literature.