Speaker: Marc Brunelle (in collaboration with Hạ Kiều Phương and Martine Grice (University of Cologne))
Synchronic tone sandhis are well attested and described, but their development is largely a matter of speculation. In this study, we look at an instance of apparent tone sandhi in progress and examine the interplay between coarticulation, reduction and perception in its formation.
In Northern Vietnamese (NVN), the low rising tone (sắc) often loses its rise in non-final position, making it perceptually very similar to the low falling tone (huyền). This gradient change does not normally result in contrast neutralization, as the rise is recoverable from a strong progressive coarticulation on the following tone. However, over the past decade, the authors have noticed that many speakers neutralize the rising tone and the low falling tone before the high level tone (ngang), an observation confirmed by native speaking linguists. This is characteristic of young female Hanoians, but seems more and more common among other gender and age groups, as well as outside Hanoi.
We conducted an acoustic investigation of this incipient sandhi in six young female NVN speakers. They were recorded while completing a map task designed to obtain targets words controlled for tone and microprosody in semi-spontaneous speech. Our results show that although none of our speakers exhibits full neutralization, they all show some degree of tone change. Based on these results and those of previous studies, we infer phonetic scenarios that could account for the initial development of the tone change. We then highlight similarities between this incipient sandhi and more established cases in Chinese and Hmong.