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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Theory of Adaptive Dispersion and Acoustic-Phonetic Properties of Cross-Language Lexical-Tone Systems Add Dissertation
Author: Jennifer Alexander Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Northwestern University, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2010
Linguistic Subfield(s): Phonetics; Typology;
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Director(s): Matthew Goldrick
Ann Bradlow
Patrick Wong

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.