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An optimality account of tone-vowel interaction in Northern Min Jiang-King, Ping


This dissertation aims at constructing a fully articulated theory of tone-vowel interaction within the framework of Optimality Theory (OT). It examines the nature of this phenomenon in Northern Min languages, as well as various Southeast Asian languages. The questions addressed are (i) what is the nature of tone-vowel interaction? (ii) how do they relate to each other? Two important findings emerge from the investigation. First, tonal types and syllable types are closely related to each other. That is, different groups of tones occur only in a certain kind of syllables. These cooccurrence restrictions are identified as a correlation between tonal contour and syllable weight. Second, tone does not directly affect vowel distributions and alternations. Rather, it is the relative syllable positions in which a vowel occurs and the number of segments present in a syllable that trigger vowel distributions and alternations. These findings lead to the conclusion that tone and vowel do not interact directly and that there is no feature-to-feature correlation between them. Their interaction lies in the prosodic anchor mediating between them. To account for the correlation between tonal contour and syllable weight and the close relationship between syllable structures and vowel features, I propose a prosodic anchor hypothesis which attributes the tone-vowel interaction to the mora and its function as an anchor for both tone and vowel The theory proposed in this thesis contains two sets of constraints. The first set governs linking of tones to moras. The examination of moras as tone-bearing units shows that moras differ with respect to how many and what kind of tones they may bear. Thus, Head Binarity (i.e. a nuclear mora must bear two tones) accounts for the quantitative distinction between tonal contours and syllable weight in Fuzhou. whereas the tonal sonority hierarchy (i.e. | +UPPER \ > \ -RAISED |) and their harmonic association to the moraic structures (i.e. the constraint ranking *NUC/[-RSD] » *NUC/[+UPR]) explain the phenomenon of a L tone restricted to the non-nuclear mora in Fuqing. I further show that the interaction of the constraints is capable of deriving the unmarkedness of tonal systems, as well as the cross-linguistic variation of tonal distributions. The second set of constraints regulates the relation between syllable structures and vowel features. It has been observed that linking of vowel features to prosodic anchor in tight syllables is more restrictive than in loose syllables. This asymmetry is expected under the prosodic anchor hypothesis since the tight syllables are argued to contain one less mora than the loose ones. I further demonstrate that the interaction of the basic syllable structure constraints with the faithfulness constraints can automatically derive the vowel distribution patterns. Two kinds of stress effects on tone-vowel interaction are identified. First, stressed syllables always preserve their lexical specifications (either tonal or segmental). Second, the vocalic changes in unstressed syllables (i.e. the non-final syllable of a domain) involve reduction of syllable weight. These stress effects can be captured by the constraints Prominence Alignment and Prominence Reduction, respectively. The former assigns a metrical grid to a rightmost syllable, hence preserving its lexical properties, while the latter prohibits a stressed syllable from having two moras. I show that these constraints, interacting with the constraints on syllabification, can successfully derive vowel alternating pairs in disyllabic words.

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