The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 12/5 - Aljoša Milenković (Harvard University)

Speaker: Aljoša Milenković (Harvard University)
Title: Markedness is not enough: Tone-stress interaction in Optimality Theory revisited
Time: Monday, December 5th, 5pm – 6:30pm

Abstract: As a general tendency in many languages, higher tone attracts/is attracted by metrical prominence, while lower tone tends towards metrically weak positions (Goldsmith 1987; Hayes 1995; Smith 2002; de Lacy 2002). The existing Optimality-Theoretic accounts use either negative markedness constraints or prosodic licensing to model tone-to-foot mapping. In this talk, I argue that both markedness- and licensing-based approaches fail to capture the full range of cross-linguistic variation. The markedness-based approach (de Lacy 1999, 2002, 2007) faces two empirical problems. First, it predicts a universal dispreference for higher tone in the weak position of a foot. This prediction is at odds with the stress pattern of Neoštokavian (Standard) Serbian, a South Slavic dialect with tone-driven stress, which preferentially constructs disyllabic trochees with a High-toned nonhead (Bethin 1994, 1998; Zsiga & Zec 2013). Second, given that negative markedness constraints penalize Low and Mid tone in stressed syllables, the theory treats stressed contour tones as marked because of the markedness penalty incurred by their Low/Mid-toned components. Consequently, contour tones are expected to be avoided and/or eliminated under stress. This is inconsistent with the fact that many languages restrict contour tones to stressed syllables, and no language restricts contour tones to unstressed syllables (Zhang 2000, 2001). The licensing-based account (Breteler 2017, 2018; Breteler & Kager 2022) readily explains both the preference for High-toned foot nonheads observed in Serbian and the metrical behavior of contour tones. However, unlike negative markedness constraints, the licensing approach has no means to enforce higher tone in foot heads and lower tone in foot nonheads, thus missing a well-documented empirical generalization. As a solution, I pursue a hybrid approach which combines de Lacy (2002)’s *Nonhead-Tone hierarchy with the licensing constraints of Breteler (2018). The midway approach adopted here is shown to improve the typological coverage of both existing approaches.