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Phonetica. 2018;75(1):24-56. doi: 10.1159/000453082. Epub 2017 Jun 9.

Interactive Prosodic Marking of Focus, Boundary and Newness in Mandarin.

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Institute of Chinese Minority Language and Literatures, Minzu University of China, Beijing, China.


The current study investigates whether and how focus, phrase boundary and newness can be simultaneously marked in speech prosody in Mandarin Chinese. Homophones were used to construct three syntactic structures that differed only in boundary condition, focus was elicited by preceding questions, while newness of postboundary words was manipulated as whether they had occurred in the previous text. Systematic analysis of F0 and duration showed that (1) duration was a reliable correlate of boundary strength regardless of focus location, while involvement of F0 was only in terms of lowering of phrase-final F0 minima and raising of phrase-initial F0 minima at a relatively strong boundary, (2) postfocus compression (PFC) of F0 was applied across all boundaries, including those with long silent pauses (over 200 ms), and postfocus F0 was lowered to almost the same degree in all boundary conditions, and (3) newness of postfocus words had no systematic effect on F0 or duration. These results indicate that not only functionally focus is independent of prosodic structure and newness, but also phonetically its realization is separate from boundary marking. Focus is signaled mainly through pitch range adjustments, which can occur even across phrase breaks, whereas boundaries are mostly signaled by duration adjustments.

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