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Neutral Tone in Mandarin: Representation and Interaction with Utterance-level Prosody



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Zhang, Yixin 


In Standard Mandarin, there are syllables that do not carry any of the four citation tones (T1: High-level tone, T2: Mid-rising tone, T3: Low-convex tone and T4: High-falling tone), and they are said to have a neutral tone (NT). These syllables are usually shorter, lighter, prosodically grouped with the preceding CT-bearing syllables. These characteristics of NT have led to a prevailing view that it has no underlying phonological specification. However, research has focused more on how the surface pitch variations of NT are realized rather than the underlying representation of NT. In contrast, morphological, sociolinguistic and diachronic work on NT has suggested that NT may not be a homogeneous entity. In this thesis, I provide acoustic and psycholinguistic evidence that there are two types of NT, Intrinsic NT and Derived NT. Intrinsic NT refers to morphemes that were lexicalized as tone-deleted, unstressed syllables even before the formation of the four CTs of modern Mandarin. Derived NT refers to morphemes derived from the CTs via stress-related tone-deletion. In Part A, the phonological representation of Intrinsic and Derived NT is explored through two production and two processing experiments. The results show that Intrinsic NT is likely to have an underspecified tonal target while Derived NTs are underlyingly CTs. In addition, both subtypes of NT are metrically light, unlike heavy CTs.
Part B explores the interaction between NTs and utterance-level prosody in production and perception experiments. NT-bearing syllables have lengthening patterns under focus similar to CT-bearing syllables, in contrast to the realization of unstressed syllables in English. In perception, the identification of intonation (Statement vs. Question) on Intrinsic NT was similar to Derived NT. When compared to CTs, the NTs elicit less bias towards question than T4, and higher accuracy than T2, which may result from their simpler surface representations.





Post, Brechtje
Schmidt, Elaine


Mandarin tone, Neutral tone, Lexical stress, Tone and Intonation


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
CHINA Scholarship COUNCIL (CSC) and Cambridge Trust