Contextual tonal variation in Mandarin Chinese

Date of Completion

January 1993


Language, Linguistics




Contextual tonal variation in Mandarin is examined through acoustic analyses and perceptual experiments in this study.^ F0 analysis of trisyllabic words and phrases, as described in Chapter 1, finds that tonal contexts in which adjacent pitch values disagree across syllable boundaries may greatly change a tone from its canonical form, sometimes severely enough to even alter the direction of the tonal contour. It is also found that the F0 contour of a tone is affected more by the preceding tone than by the following tone. Perception of coarticulated tones is examined by removing relevant semantic information from these trisyllabic words and phrases through waveform editing and using the edited utterances as stimuli for tone identification. Mandarin speakers identify the tones presented in the original tonal contexts with high accuracy. Without the original context, however, correct identification drops below chance for tones that deviate much from the ideal contours due to coarticulation. When the original tonal context is altered, listeners compensate for the altered contexts as if they had been there originally. These results are interpreted as demonstrating listeners' ability to compensate for tonal coarticulation.^ Chapter 2 examines F0 contours in disyllabic sequences with all the possible bitonal combinations of the four lexical tones in Mandarin produced in different carrier sentences. It is found that a tone is influenced by both carryover and anticipatory effects, but the former seems to dominate. The carryover effect is found to be assimilatory, and its influence is seen to extend across the next and even the third syllables in a row. In contrast, the anticipatory effect is mostly dissimilatory, i.e., a low or high starting pitch raises or lowers the F0 values of the preceding tone, and its influence seems to be limited to the immediately preceding syllable.^ Chapter 3 offers a unified view of contextual tonal variation in Mandarin that explains various non-phonological contextual tonal variations found so far in Mandarin in terms of interaction between anticipatory and carryover effects. ^