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Tone contrast maintenance driving phonological change in intonation grammars

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Central Franconian dialects of German and the contiguous Limburg dialects spoken in Belgium and the Netherlands have a lexical tone contrast comparable to that of Norwegian and Swedish. Like Scandinavian, these dialects have a binary contrast located in the stressed syllable of words, referred to as accent 1 vs. accent 2. Unlike Scandinavian, the contrast occurs regardless of the position of the stressed syllable in the word, and is also found on monosyllables. A sufficient number of these dialects have now been analysed within the autosegmental-metrical model of Pierrehumbert (1980) for a reconstruction of the development of their tone systems to be feasible. It places the tonogenesis around 1300 in Cologne, with the development of a lexical H-tone in monosyllabic singular forms of nouns whose plurals are segmentally identical, as in [weexH – weex] ‘road -roads’. Two subsequent phonological changes are shared by all the dialects, including that of Cologne, while a number of changes distinguish Cologne on the one hand from East Limburgian and on the other from Central and West Limburgian. Further developments distiguish dialects within each group.

In addition to a wealth of information about the tonal grammars and their genetic relations, a number of conclusions can be drawn which vary in the extent to which they are applicable to language in general. Of these, the following will be defended:

1. West Germanic languages, and hence presumably also the dialect of Cologne before the tonogenesis, have complex intonation systems. The introduction of the lexical tone contrast put a strain on the intonational system, as it was to be maintained in a large number of intonational contexts. The resulting changes effectively reduced the number of different intonation contours to two, and led to a typologically unexpected form of the question intonation, a rise-fall (L HL%, developing from H H%). Subsequent developments yielded varying numbers of intonation contours, one in West-Limburgian, two in East Limburgian, and three in Cologne. Most of the changes we have identified can be motivated on the grounds of contrast preservation or enhancement for the lexical tone, often at the expense of intonational contrasts.

2. Natural phonological processes that cannot have developed from any corresponding phonetic tendencies may arise in grammars during language acquisition. For instance, lowering of the question intonation used for accent 2 led to an interpretation of earlier (HH) HL% as (LL) HL% (where the parentheses mark off the stressed syllable). This necessitated the introduction of an assimilation rule changing the lexical H to L after L*, since in other contexts it continued to show up as H. A comparable segmental case is Standard Dutch progressive devoicing of fricatives after obstruents, as in de [z]on – met [s]on ‘the sun – with sunshine’, which historically arose from selective voicing of word initial fricatives in contexts other than after obstruents. Rule inversion is part of a wider class of events.

3. Adult speakers can change their phonetic implementation rules and can decide to use a different phonological form for specific lexical items, but typically do not change their grammars. The motivation for changed phonetic behaviour in adults is unrelated to the motivation for the specific way in which the new phonetic forms are interpreted during L1 acquisition and to the new shape of the tonal grammar that arises. For instance, truncation of a fall-rise-fall to a fall-rise, which had an articulatory motivation, led to a change in the sequencing of lexical and intonational tones, yielding a large number of new pitch shapes in East Limburgian.

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

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