[PS-2.57] Prominence in Speech Cycling: Evidence from an African Tone Language

Franich, K.

University of Chicago

Hierarchical prosodic structure in language can be modeled as a dynamical system in which levels of prosodic structure characterize a multi-frequency system of coupled oscillators (Cummins & Port 1998; Tajima 1998). Such models elegantly explain why, in metronome-controlled phrase repetition (?speech cycling?) tasks, subjects consistently align stressed syllables with privileged (1/2, 1/3 or 2/3) fractions of the repetition cycle (Simple Harmonic Phases/SHPs): prominent syllables act as pivots for rhythmic coordination across prosodic levels. We ask: in languages which lack canonical acoustic correlates of stress, which syllables act as prominent? In a speech cycling task with speakers of Medumba, a stressless African tone language, we investigate two possible sources of prominence: stem position (stem-initial vs. non-initial) and tone (high vs. low). Distance of the target syllable to SHP was lower for stem-initial syllables than non-initial syllables (p < 0.01), and was lower for high tones than low tones (p < 0.01). An interaction revealed stem-initial high tone syllables were most likely to occur close to an SHP (p < 0.01). In conclusion, though no single syllable type bears absolute prominence in Medumba (and perhaps African tone languages generally), various morphological and phonological factors contribute to a syllable?s relative prominence.