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The Effects of Duration and Sonority on Contour Tone Distribution—

Typological Survey and Formal Analysis

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the

requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy

in Linguistics

Jie Zhang

© Copyright by

Jie Zhang


The dissertation of Jie Zhang is approved.


Bruce Hayes


Sun-Ah Jun


Ian Maddieson


Donka Minkova


Donca Steriade, Committee Chair

University of California, Los Angeles


To my aunt Shen Shi-Guang

with love and gratitude


Chapter 1 Background 1

1.1 Two Examples of Contour Tone Distribution 1

1.1.1 Contour Tones on Long Vowels Only 1

1.1.2 Contour Tones on Stressed Syllables Only 7

1.2 Questions Raised by the Examples 8

1.3 How This Dissertation Evaluates Predictions of Different Approaches 11

1.3.1 A Survey of Contour Tone Distribution 12

1.3.2 Instrumental Case Studies 15

1.4 Putting Contour Tone Distribution in a Bigger Picture 16

1.4.1 Phonetically-Driven Phonology 17

1.4.2 Positional Prominence 19

1.4.3 Questions of Contour Tone Distribution in a Broader Context 21

1.5 Outline of the Dissertation 27

Chapter 2 The Phonetics of Contour Tones 31

2.1 The Importance of Sonority in Contour Tone Bearing 31

2.2 The Importance of Duration in Contour Tone Bearing 32

2.3 The Irrelevance of Onsets to Contour Tone Bearing 34

2.4 Local Conclusion 36

Chapter 3 Empirical Predictions of Different Approaches 37

3.1 Defining Tonal Complexity from the Phonetics of Contour Tones 37

3.2 Phonological Factors that Influence Duration and Sonority of the Rime 42

3.3 Predictions of Contour Tone Distribution by Different Approaches 46

3.3.1 The Direct Approach 46

3.3.2 The Traditional Positional Faithfulness Approach 52

3.3.3 The Moraic Approach 55

3.4 Local Conclusion 57

Chapter 4 The Role of Contrast-Specific Phonetics in Contour Tone Distribution: A Survey 59

4.1 Overview of the Survey 59

4.2 Segmental Composition 63

4.2.1 General Observations 63

4.2.2 Example Languages 68

4.2.3 Local Conclusion: Segmental Effects 82

4.3 Stress 84

4.3.1 General Observations 84

4.3.2 Example Languages 86

4.3.3 Local Conclusion: Stress Effects 93

4.4 Proximity to Prosodic Boundaries 94

4.4.1 General Observations 95

4.4.2 Example Languages 97

4.4.3 Local Conclusion: Final Effects 103

4.5 Number of Syllables in the Word 106

4.5.1 General Observations 106

4.5.2 Example Languages 108

4.5.3 Local Conclusion: Syllable Count Effects 119

4.6 Other Distributional Properties and Exceptions 121

4.6.1 Other Distributional Properties 121

4.6.2 Durational Factors Not Reflected in the Contour Tone Survey 127

4.6.3 Languages with No Clearly Documented Contour Tone Restrictions 132

4.6.4 Exceptions 133

4.7 Interim Conclusion 136

4.8 Prospectus 138

Chapter 5 The Role of Language-Specific Phonetics in Contour Tone Distribution: Instrumental Studies 140

5.1 Identifying the Languages 140

5.2 Instrumental Studies 143

5.2.1 Xhosa 144

5.2.2 Beijing Chinese 150

5.2.3 Standard Thai 155

5.2.4 Cantonese 161

5.2.5 Navajo 163

5.2.6 Somali 169

5.3 Lama and KOnni 170

5.4 General Discussion 176

Chapter 6 Against Structural Alternatives 179

6.1 The Moraic Approach 179

6.1.1 The Roles of the Mora in Phonology 180

6.1.2 Advantages of Prosodic-Final Syllables and Syllables in Shorter Words 182

6.1.3 Levels of Distinction 184

6.1.4 Differences among Tones with the Same Number of Pitch Targets 186

6.1.5 The Size of Tonal Inventory of Different Syllable Types 195

6.1.6 Moraic Inconsistency 198

6.1.7 Indirect Evidence: Diphthong Distribution 207

6.1.8 Local Conclusion 211

6.2 The Melody Mapping Approach 211

6.2.1 Two Types of Tone Languages 212

6.2.2 Non-Distinctive Tonal Association—An Analysis of Kukuya 219

6.2.3 Distinctive Tonal Association—An Analysis of Mende 231

6.2.4 Local Conclusion 240

6.3 Interim Conclusion 240

Chapter 7 A Phonetically-Driven Optimality-Theoretic Approach 241

7.1 Setting the Stage 241

7.1.1 Positional Faithfulness vs. Positional Markedness 241

7.1.2 Overview of the Theoretical Apparatus 252

7.2 Constraints and Their Intrinsic Rankings Projected from Phonetics 254

7.2.1 *Contour(x)-CCONTOUR(y) 254

7.2.2 *Duration 258

7.2.3 Preserve(Tone) 264

7.3 Assumptions Made in the Model 273

7.4 Factorial Typology 280

7.4.1 No Change Necessary 281

7.4.2 Partial Contour Reduction 282

7.4.3 Complete Contour Reduction 283

7.4.4 Interim Summary 285

7.4.5 Non-Neutralizing Lengthening 286

7.4.6 Neutralizing Lengthening 288

7.4.7 Interim Summary 289

7.4.8 Contour Reduction + Rime Lengthening 290

7.4.9 Summary 292

Chapter 8 Case Studies 299

8.1 Pingyao Chinese 299

8.2 Xhosa 303

8.3 Mitla Zapotec 308

8.4 Gã 311

8.5 Hausa 320

8.7 Local Conclusion 328

Chapter 9 Conclusion 329


This has been quite a journey—for someone who came to this department not having the slightly idea what a fricative was to eventually write a hefty tome like this, it is probably more than just a journey. A transformation is more like it.

There are so many people who have helped me during this transformation and made my years of going through the process the most fulfilling years of my life. But first and foremost, my thanks go to my teacher Donca Steriade.

Donca is the kind of advisor that every student dreams to have. The ideas of this dissertation were literally formed from many many hours of discussion in her office, with her clarifying or challenging every one of my argument (or lack thereof). Sometimes you feel ashamed because she is more enthusiastic about your work than you are and she knows it better than you do. I thank her for her unparalleled intelligence, which has guided, and is still guiding me, through empirical and theoretical puzzles. I thank her for her motherly concern for every one of my career moves, be it a conference presentation, a written-up paper, or a job interview. I thank her for her contagious love of linguistics, which I have fortunately contracted. I thank her for never losing faith in me, even after drafts after drafts of writing that are ‘simply abhorrent’ (something that she has never said to me, but is so completely imaginable that it seems she has said it many times). Donca Steriade is far beyond just a great linguist and a great teacher. She is a wonderful person, a real mensch in every sense of the word. It is a great honor to be her student.

My deepest gratitude also goes to Bruce Hayes, who taught me my very first phonology class and enthralled me with the beauty of phonology as a scientific pursuit. He has remained supportive throughout my graduate career. His influence on me, not only as a phonologist, but also as a scientist, is profound. I will forever remember the trepidation every time I go into his office for an appointment, anticipating all the incisive and hard questions he will ask. There are still many of his questions for which I have no answers. These questions will not be forgotten. They will guide me throughout my career.

Thanks also go to my other committee members—Sun-Ah Jun, Ian Maddieson, and Donka Minkova: Sun-Ah for teaching me phonetics and encouraging me to go to my first ever academic conference; Ian for being an encyclopedia of data and always maintaining high standards that demand my best work; Donka for her feedback on this dissertation and support. I also thank Moira Yip, who has had as much influence on this dissertation as my official committee members.

I thank all the speakers that participated in my phonetic experiments: Alhaji Gimba, Virgie Kee, Haiyong Liu, Elton Naswood, Yiem Sunbhanich, and Viphavee Vongpumivitch. Your patience in enduring the long recording sessions is highly appreciated. I am also grateful to Russ Schuh and Aaron Shryock for answering my questions about Chadic languages.

To all my teachers at UCLA, thank you for all you have taught me, linguistics and otherwise. In particular, I thank Susie Curtis for her encouragement and support, Pat Keating for her inspirational phonetic classes, Ed Keenan for instilling mathematical rigor in my linguistic thinking, Hilda Koopman for her encouragement during my first syntax class, Peter and Jenny Ladefoged for being such wonderful grandparent figures in the lab, Pam Munro for teaching me field methods and Zapotec, and Colin Wilson for teaching me phonology.

To my friends and colleagues at UCLA, thank you for your emotional support: Victoria Anderson, Heriberto Avelino, Marco Baroni, Roger Billerey-Mosier, Rebecca Brown, Leston Buell, Elena Suet-Ying Chiu, Melissa Epstein, Christina Foreman, John Foreman, Chai-Shune Hsu, Amanda Jones, Jongho Jun, Sahyang Kim, Natasha Levy, Ying Lin, Haiyong Liu, Patrick Manalastas, Amy Schafer, Wendy Swartz, Siri Tuttle, Motoko Ueyama, Yihua Wang, Richard Wright, Kie Zuraw…

Special thanks to Matt Gordon, for many helpful discussions on issues related to this dissertation, and for setting a high standard for me to follow; and to Taehong Cho, for your inspirational diligence, for keeping me company during late-night lab sessions, and for feeding me delicious Korean food.

Very special thanks to Adam Albright, Ivano Caponigro, and Harold Torrence, three of the smartest, sweetest, and funniest people, for those wonderful dinner parties, tea times, and movie outings. Without you, my years at UCLA would have been much less happy.

To Umberto Ansaldo, a very special friend: Thank you for your emails. It is amazing how much one can benefit from the emotional support of a friend so far away.

To Dan Silverman: Thank you for your patience, your trust, your humor, and your encouragement.

To Judson (aka Sua@n Sua@n): What you have done for me over the years is too much to be thanked for, so I won’t. Instead, now I am ready to tell you what this dissertation is all about.

To my family—my departed grandmother Chen Jing-Ding, my father Zhang Ze-Quan, my mother Shen Huan, and Zhang Yang, Lü Hong, and Zhang Chao-Min: Even though you are far away in China, I know you are behind me every minute, whatever I do, whatever difficulties I might have. Thank you for respecting my choice of switching from EE, in which I could have had a lucrative career, to linguistics, in which I might starve to death. I could not have asked for a more supportive and loving family.

To my aunt Shen Shi-Guang: You have been there for me every single minute since I was born, and you have never asked for pay-backs. You are the most noble and selfless person I have ever known, and I owe every bit of my achievement to you. I know it would be hopeless for me to repay all my debts, but this dissertation is a start—I wrote it for you.

April 2, 1971 Born, Shanghai, China

1994 B.E., Electronics Engineering

Tsinghua University

Beijing, China
1997 M.A., Linguistics

University of California, Los Angeles

1995-2000 Teaching Assistant

Department of Linguistics

University of California, Los Angeles
1998-2000 Teaching Assistant

Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures

University of California, Los Angeles


Zhang, Jie (to appear). The role of contrast-specific and language-specific phonetics in contour tone distribution. In Bruce Hayes, Robert Kirchner, and Donca Steriade (eds.), The phonetic basis of phonology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Zhang, Jie (2001). The contrast-specificity of positional prominence—evidence from diphthong distribution. Paper presented at the 75th annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA). Washington, DC.
Zhang, Jie (2000). Non-contrastive features and categorical patterning in Chinese diminutive suffixation—Max[F] or Ident[F]? Phonology 17. 427-478.
Zhang, Jie (2000). The phonetic basis for tonal melody mapping in Mende and elsewhere. Proceedings of the 19th annual meeting of the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL 19). Cascadilla Press, Somerville, MA. 603-616.
Zhang, Jie (2000). Phonetic duration effects on contour tone distribution. In M. Hirotani, A. Coetzee, N. Hall, and J-Y. Kim (eds.), Proceedings of the 30th annual meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 30). GLSA Publications, Amherst, MA.
Zhang, Jie (1999). A phonetically-based OT account for the /n/-/N/ asymmetry upon /’/-suffixation in northern Chinese dialects. Linguistics in the Morning Calm 4. Hanshin Publishing House, Seoul, Korea. 275-295.
Zhang, Jie (1998). Checked tones in Chinese dialects—evidence for phonetically-driven phonology. Proceedings of the 34th annual meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society (CLS 34), Vol. 1. 439-453.
Zhang, Jie (1996). Variation in degree of nasalization for Mandarin vowels with superimposed rhoticity. Poster presented at the 3rd Joint meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) and the Acoustical Society of Japan (ASJ). Honolulu, HI.
Zhang, Jie (1996). The consonantal properties of the unrounded high-mid back vowel /Ø/ in Mandarin Chinese. Poster presented at the 131st Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA). Indianapolis, IN.
The Effects of Duration and Sonority on Contour Tone Distribution—

Typological Survey and Formal Analysis

Jie Zhang

Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics

University of California, Los Angeles, 2001

Professor Donca Steriade, Chair

This dissertation addresses two general questions in phonology: (a) Are positional prominence effects contrast-specific? (b) For a specific phonological contrast, is its positional prominence behavior tuned to language-specific phonetic patterns?

These questions are investigated through the behavior of contour tones. Unlike many other phonological features, the production and perception of contour tones crucially depend on the duration and sonority of the rime. This provides a testing ground for whether the positional prominence behavior of contour tones is tied to its specific articulatory and perceptual needs. Furthermore, there exist multiple phonological factors that affect the duration of the sonorous portion of the rime, and the magnitudes of these effects differ on a language-specific basis. This provides a testing ground for whether the contour tone behavior of a language is tuned to its specific phonetic patterns.

In a survey of 187 languages, the distribution of contour tones is found to correlate closely with the duration and sonority of the rime. Syllables with longer sonorous rime duration, e.g., those that are long-vowelled, sonorant-closed, stressed, prosodic-final, or in a shorter word, are more likely to carry contour tones. This supports the contrast specificity of positional prominence, since the distribution of contour tones is decidedly different from that of many other phonological features, and it is tuned to the specific articulatory and perceptual needs of contour tones.

In phonetic studies of languages with the same multiple factors that induce rime lengthening, it is found that contour tones always favor the factor with the greatest lengthening, even though different languages have different factors that induce the greatest lengthening. This is evidence for the relevance of language-specific phonetics in positional prominence.

Formal apparatus couched in Optimality Theory is proposed to account for the effects of duration and sonority on contour tone distribution. The apparatus necessarily encodes many phonetic details. But it predicts only general patterns that are attested in the survey, and it can account for both the ‘phonological’ effects of tone and length neutralization and the ‘phonetic’, albeit language-specific, effects of partial contour reduction and rime lengthening.

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