Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Linguistics

First Advisor

John Clifton

Abstract

Local varieties of Mandarin Chinese have been underdocumented. This study focuses on Mandarin high falling fourth tone (T4), as pronounced in connected speech by four female speakers native to Nanning City and its surrounding areas, in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Surface forms of T4 and the high level tone (T1) often exhibit minimal difference, most likely due to the strong Cantonese influence in the area. I compare the pronunciation of T4 in multiple environments to the predictions about Standard Mandarin T4 surface forms in those same positions. Nanning T4 is flatter overall than Standard Mandarin T4 in all positions, with two-thirds to three-fourths of the T4s which were predicted to exhibit full falls actually exhibiting blocked falls.

In this study I also propose a subdivision of blocked falls into two subcategories of partially blocked and completely blocked. This division helps to more accurately describe the surface forms of blocked falls, creating the ability to distinguish T4 falls with narrower ranges from T4s with completely flattened contours or even positive slopes.

A perception test accompanies the acoustic analysis. Twenty-six Chinese living in Nanning were asked to identify T4 and T1 syllables extracted from the recordings. Test prompts included syllables, words, phrases, and sentences. Results show a unidirectional confusion of T4 with T1, which is consistent with findings from other perception studies. Onset height is a vital T4 perceptual cue, often more powerful than contour for some listeners. Regardless of the acoustic flattening of T4 in Nanning Mandarin, the underlying form of T4 remains distinct from T1, and onset height is a more important determiner of range than the position of T4 in the sentence or the tonal context surrounding the T4.

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