Abstract:  "The role of contrast specific and language specific durational patterns in contour tone distribution"

by Jie Zhang

To appear in Bruce Hayes, Robert Kirchner, and Donca Steriade, eds., Phonetically Based Phonology, Cambridge University Press.


This chapter 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 phonetics?

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 rhyme. Examining the cross-linguistic behavior of contour tone licensing, we find that 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, we find 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.

A formal model that encodes phonetic details is proposed under the framework of Optimality Theory. Not only does it allow the relation between contour tone distribution and phonetic duration and sonority to emerge as predictions, it also generates both gradient and categorical contour tone licensing behavior.

Download a draft version of this chapter

Return to the Phonetically-Based Phonology home page