Journal article Open Access

Phrasal stress in Beijing Mandarin disyllabic phrases

Yi, Hao

Mandarin Chinese has been claimed to have phrasal stress which falls on a nonhead constituent: on the modifier in a modifier-noun phrase, and on the object in a verb-object phrase (MODNh and VhOBJ, respectively; the subscript h stands for head, and the stressed constituentisunderlined).ThisNONHEAD STRESS RULE is motivated by the greater information load carried by the nonhead than its syntactic head (Duanmu 2007).

Taking NONHEAD STRESS RULE as a point of departure, the current study investigated Mandarin phrasal stress by using focus as a diagnostic tool. Fifteen pairs of homophonous disyllabic phrases, each consisting of a MODNh phrase and a VhOBJ phrase, were elicited under both BROADFOCUS and NARROW FOCUS.The phonetic correlates of phrasal stress—duration and F0—were measured.

The hypotheses tested was that the nonheads have phrasal stress. Accordingly, the predictions were that (i) the nonheads will have greater duration and greater F0 measurements under both focus conditions, and that (ii) the increase of duration and F0 measurements on the nonheads will be greater under NARROWFOCUS.

The results showed that at the phrase level, a MODNh and a homophonous VhOBJ differed significantly in duration ratio and F0 measurements, consistent with the interpretation that MODNh exhibits initial stress and VhOBJ exhibits final stress.

However, there also existed cross-stimulus variation, which is argued to be idiosyncratic rather than random. In sum, it is concluded that NONHEAD STRESS RULE,despite being a weak universal,is an important component to Mandarin Prosody, and underlies the contrastive stress patterns of MODNh and VhOBJ.

This working paper is copyrighted, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) - see
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