Prosodic Systematicity Meets Language Development: Skewed Tonal Inventories in Non-Arbitrary Language
Arthur Lewis Thompson
December 2018

Recent advances in the literature have focused on sketching phonosemantic mappings of imitative or iconic utterances by relying on vowels and consonants [1-5], leaving the suprasegmental information unexplored [6]. To begin bridging this gap, this study looks at the interaction of lexical tone and iconicity by comparing sound symbolic (i.e., mimetic, expressive, ideophonic) strata and general (i.e., arbitrary, prosaic, non-iconic) strata from three Chinese languages (Mandarin, Taiwanese Southern Min, Hong Kong Cantonese) using corpus-based means. For all three languages the distribution of tones in the sound symbolic strata are skewed so that the majority of syllables are largely confined to two tonal categories per language, one of which is high level, while the general strata exhibit no such tonal bias. These results indicate that phonological systematicity at the prosodic level might play an important role in demarcating an iconic class of words. This cross-linguistic tendency towards high tone mappings may be derived from phonotactic strategies to facilitate prosodic foregrounding of iconic utterances as well as an embodiment of expressive voice and marked pitch use like that of Infant Directed Speech.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/003072
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: PLOS ONE
keywords: sound symbolism, tone, iconicity, chinese, mandarin, cantonese, southern min, phonology, ideophones
previous versions: v1 [April 2016]
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