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Motivations for speaker intervention in phonetic implementation: Meanings and forms

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Phonetic implementation is the conversion of a surface phonological representation into an acoustic signal that represents a canonical pronunciation. My interest in this talk is in two ways in which speakers can modify this process, one targeting the meaning of the message and the other its phonology. The first concerns the addition of paralanguage to the meaning expressed by the linguistic structure. Here, I will argue that paralinguistic meaning is not always affective. I will report results of a categorical perception experiment suggesting that question intonation in a variety of Mandarin is expressed paralinguistically. The second target of speaker intervention concerns form, i.e., phonological contrasts. Incomplete neutralization, which for instance causes a shorter [t] in [bʊnt] from /bʊnd/ ‘union’ than in [bʊnt] from /bʊnt/ ‘colourful’, may be one type of result of such intervention. I will contrast two views of how speaker intervention might have created the deviation from phonetic sameness. One focuses on traces of the underlying forms in surface representations. It predicts that we will see mini-versions of the underlying forms in the phonetics. The other focuses on the derivational event, i.e., on the effect of the synchronic derivational pass in one or both of two neutralized forms. It predicts that a neutralized surface form that has undergone a derivation will be pronounced less confidently than an underived surface form. I will present preliminary data from an investigation (with Lei Wang) of neutralizing tone sandhi in Mandarin which supports the second view.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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