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Title:Syllable Contraction in Cantonese A-not-A Constructions: An Optimality Account
Authors:Wai Man Lam
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Abstract:This thesis describes and explains the behavior of the various strings of A-not-A constructions in Cantonese connected speech, namely £m1-m21-£m2, £m1-m21-£m2-£m3 and £m1-£m2-m21-£m3-£m4, in which the morpheme /m21/ is sequenced between two identical verbs or adjectives. In £m1-m21-£m2 and £m1-m21-£m2-£m3 strings, the syllabic nasal is either realized as the coda of £m1 or the onset of £m2, which is subject to phonological context. These patterns are explained through constraint interaction of a set of universal and violable constraints in Optimality Theory (Prince & Smolensky 1993). I demonstrate that the universality of OT constraints can relate language-specific processes with universal tendencies of connected speech. Cross-linguistic differences in connected speech phonology can be explained via different constraint rankings. The OT framework allows a unified discussion of language universality and language specificity in regard to connected speech processes.

The prohibition of syllable contraction in the £m1-£m2-m21-£m3-£m4 string as well as the simple negation string m21-£m1 is attributed to prosodic constituency, which provides evidence that syllable contraction does not only concern the two contracted syllables, but is also governed by prosodic factors of a larger domain, namely the phrase level. I argue that various A-not-A strings are governed by the same ranking of constraints, in which faithfulness to the prosodic head is put to the highest priority.

I argue that the flexibility of constraint re-ranking mechanisms contributes to the explanation of the high degree of variation among connected speech forms. Variant forms of syllable contraction demonstrate varying closeness to the citation form, depending on the demand of speech clarity, which is represented by faithfulness constraints. The constraint re-ranking mechanism allows a unified discussion of variant forms and their relationship with conflicting demands. The flexible nature of the OT framework sheds light on the study of connected speech.
Type:Paper/tech report
Area/Keywords:connected speech
Article:Version 1