The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 12/12 - Edward Flemming

Speaker: Edward Flemming (MIT)
Title: Boundary tones in Mandarin Chinese intonation
Time: Monday, December 12th, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with Helen Nie (MIT)

Mandarin Chinese echo questions present an interesting test case for intonational theory because they are distinguished from declaratives by intonation alone, but it is not obvious that the intonational distinction can be characterized in terms of the familiar elements of intonation. There are no obvious pitch accents or boundary tones distinguishing echo questions from corresponding declaratives because F0 movements are primarily determined by lexical tones, so final F0 is rising if the lexical tone of the final syllable is rising, and falling if the tone of the last syllable is falling. Instead echo questions are distinguished from declaratives by an optional increase in overall pitch range and modifications to the final tone that have been characterized as a further expansion of pitch range, since high targets are raised but low targets may not be.<\p>

We provide evidence that these modifications to the final tone are in fact due to the presence of a high boundary tone, but its realization differs from familiar boundary tones because it is realized simultaneously with the final lexical tone. The conflict between the simultaneous demands of lexical tone and boundary tone are resolved by compromise between their conflicting targets, an analysis formalized in terms of weighted constraints.