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LINGUIST List 22.3135

Fri Aug 05 2011

Diss: Phonetics/Typology: Alexander: 'The Theory of Adaptive ...'

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        1.     Jennifer Alexander , The Theory of Adaptive Dispersion and Acoustic-Phonetic Properties of Cross-Language Lexical-Tone Systems

Message 1: The Theory of Adaptive Dispersion and Acoustic-Phonetic Properties of Cross-Language Lexical-Tone Systems
Date: 04-Aug-2011
From: Jennifer Alexander <jennifer_alexandersfu.ca>
Subject: The Theory of Adaptive Dispersion and Acoustic-Phonetic Properties of Cross-Language Lexical-Tone Systems
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Institution: Northwestern University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2010

Author: Jennifer A Alexander

Dissertation Title: The Theory of Adaptive Dispersion and Acoustic-Phonetic
Properties of Cross-Language Lexical-Tone Systems

Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Typology

Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin (cmn)
Thai (tha)


Dissertation Director(s):
Ann R. Bradlow
Matthew Goldrick
Patrick C.M. Wong

Dissertation Abstract:

Lexical-tone languages use fundamental frequency (F0/pitch) to convey word
meaning. About 41.8% of the world's languages use lexical tone (Maddieson,
2008), yet those systems are under-studied. I aim to increase our understanding
of speech-sound inventory organization by extending to tone-systems a model of
vowel-system organization, the Theory of Adaptive Dispersion (TAD) (Liljencrants
and Lindblom, 1972). This is a cross-language investigation of whether and how
the size of a tonal inventory affects (A) acoustic tone-space size and (B)
dispersion of tone categories within the tone-space.

I compared five languages with very different tone inventories: Cantonese (3
contour, 3 level tones); Mandarin (3 contour, 1 level tone); Thai (2 contour, 3
level tones); Yoruba (3 level tones only); and Igbo (2 level tones only). Six
native speakers (3 female) of each language produced 18 CV syllables in
isolation, with each of his/her language's tones, six times. I measured tonal F0
across the vowel at onset, midpoint, and offglide. Tone-space size was the F0
difference in semitones (ST) between each language's highest and lowest tones.
Tone dispersion was the F0 distance (ST) between two tones shared by multiple
languages. Following the TAD, I predicted that languages with larger tone
inventories would have larger tone-spaces. Against expectations, tone-space size
was fixed across level-tone languages at midpoint and offglide, and across
contour-tone languages (except Thai) at offglide. However, within each language
type (level-tone vs. contour-tone), languages with smaller tone inventories had
larger tone spaces at onset. Tone-dispersion results were also unexpected. The
Cantonese mid-level tone was further dispersed from a tonal baseline than the
Yoruba mid-level tone; Cantonese mid-level tone dispersion was therefore greater
than theoretically necessary. The Cantonese high-level tone was also further
dispersed from baseline than the Mandarin high-level tone - at midpoint and
offglide only. The TAD cannot account for these results. A follow-up analysis
indicates that tone-space size differs as a function of tone-language type:
level-tone and contour-tone systems may not be comparable. Another analysis
plots tones in an onset F0 x offglide F0 space (following Barry and Blamey,
2004). Preliminary results indicate that the languages' tones are well-separated
in this space.

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