The study focuses on the characteristic features of consonant palatalization in spontaneous Estonian. In Standard Estonian, coarticulatory palatalization occurs with alveolar consonants l, n, s, t (d) which are palatalized at the syllable boundary before i and j, e.g. pal’ju ’a lot of’, tel’lis ’he/she ordered’, pańi ’he/she put’ (palatalization is marked with an acute). In i-stem nouns where i has disappeared due to apocope in the nominative case, palatalization also occurs word-finally, e.g. końt ’bone, sg.nom.’ : kondi ’bone, sg.gen.’.
The materials for the current analysis come from the Tartu University Phonetic Corpus of Estonian Spontaneous Speech. Two types of i-stem words where in the nominative case a stem vowel is missing were analysed in detail. The results show that in the (C)VVCÍ words prepalatalization occurs in 30 % of the cases, where an i-like transition phase constitutes 28 % of the total duration of the vowel. In (C)VCÍC words an i-like transition is present in almost all cases. An i-like transition phase constitutes 46 % of the total duration of a vowel and the stable phase in vowel formants cannot always be found. Similarly to previous studies of Estonian laboratory speech (e.g. Eek 1972; Lehiste 1965; Liiv 1965a) it appears that in the case of palatalization the vowel before a consonant is longer and the transition phase exhibits a rise in the F2 values of the vowel.
Our results also show that an i-like transition vowel regularly occurs before a palatalized consonant. Generally Estonian palatalization is rather weak as compared to the neighbouring Indo-European languages such as Latvian and Russian. The prepalatalization of consonants is related to a broader tendency towards depalatalization of consonants.