The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 11/8 - Jonathan Barnes

Speaker: Jonathan Barnes (BU)
Title: Title:
Date/Time: Thursday, Nov 8, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

Much of the recent history of research in intonational phonology could fairly be characterized as an ongoing debate between so-called “configuration-based” and “level-based” approaches to the primitive elements that comprise representations of intonation contours. Configuration-based models understand intonation in terms of dynamic elements, such as rises and falls, while level-based models deal instead in static pitch-level targets (primarily Highs and Lows). As phonological opinion has settled in favor of level-based theories, it has been tempting to see a direct instantiation of phonological tone levels in local F0 turning points (e.g., maxima and minima, hereafter TPs). The study of F0 TPs from this point of view has uncovered substantial systematicity both in how tonal movements align with the segmental skeleton of an utterance, and in how they are scaled with respect to each other in the frequency domain. However, serious problems have surfaced as well: TP-locations are often ambiguous, or even unrecoverable, from the F0 record. Worse still, evidence suggests that a host of difficult-to-quantify aspects of global contour shape influence perception of contour identity, potentially overriding TP-based evidence under the right circumstances. Listeners, in other words, attend to precisely those aspects of the signal that standard level-based models predict they should ignore. In this talk, I will present evidence from paired perception and production studies involving intonation patterns in American English, in support of a new approach to the phonetics and phonology of intonation. This model, based on the notion of Tonal Center of Gravity (TCoG), captures key insights from configuration-based approaches, without abandoning the central tenets of a level-based intonational phonology. It also makes a variety of predictions concerning tonal implementation and the structure of tone inventories that are not accessible in traditional level-based terms. One of these I explore further in the context of tonal co-occurrence patterns in Chinese languages.