This study aims at constructing a fully articulated theory of tone-vowel
interaction within the framework of Optimality Theory (OT). It examines the
nature of this phenomenon in Northern Min languages, as well as various
Southeast Asian languages. The questions addressed are (i) what is the
nature of tone-vowel interaction? (ii) how do they relate to each other?
Two important findings emerge from the investigation. First, tonal types
and syllable types are closely related to each other. That is, different
groups of tones occur only in a certain kind of syllables. These
cooccurrence restrictions are identified as a correlation between tonal
contour and syllable weight.
Second, tone does not directly affect vowel distributions and alternations.
Rather, it is the relative syllable positions in which a vowel occurs and
the number of segments present in a syllable that trigger vowel
distributions and alternations. These findings lead to the conclusion that
tone and vowel do not interact directly and that there is no
feature-to-feature correlation between them. Their interaction lies in the
prosodic anchor mediating between them. To account for the correlation
between tonal contour and syllable weight and the close relationship
between syllable structures and vowel features, a prosodic anchor
hypothesis is proposed which attributes the tone-vowel interaction to the
mora and its function as an anchor for both tone and vowel.