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Headship as melodic and prosodic prominence
Kuniya NASUKAWA and Phillip BACKLEY (Tohoku Gakuin University)
This paper considers the notion of phonological prominence from both prosodic
(supra-segmental) and melodic (segmental) perspectives, and discusses some important
ways in which the two are related. In fact, the connection between prosodic prominence
and melodic prominence appears to be so strong that one cannot be fully explained
without reference to the other.
We adopt an Element Theory (Harris & Lindsey 2000, Harris 2005) approach to
segmental structure, and exploit one of the characteristics of this model – melodic headship – in our formal definition of melodic prominence. An element whose acoustic properties dominate an expression is deemed the head of that expression, and we argue that having a melodic head contributes to an expression’s melodic prominence: the presence of a head element renders the whole expression acoustically and perceptually more salient. For example, non-headed |H| (noise element: high-frequency energy, aperiodic noise) is realized as frication in fricatives and as stop release in stops, while headed |H| is phonetically realized as aspiration – which, in acoustic terms, may be understood as a more prominent form of frication (Harris 1994). As for the other consonant elements | | (edge element: abrupt and sustained drop in amplitude) and |N| (murmur element: low-frequency murmur, periodicity), these also differ in prominence according to their headed status: non-headed | | and |N| phonetically correspond to occlusion and nasality respectively, while headed | | and |N| are phonetically realized as ejectiveness (a more prominent form of occlusion: Backley & Nasukawa 2012) and full obstruent voicing (a more prominent form of nasality: Nasukawa 2005) respectively.
Furthermore, we claim that the distribution of headed expressions is sensitive to
prosodic prominence. Although the general literature makes frequent reference to prominent and non-prominent (or sometimes strong and weak) prosodic positions, it has shown little interest in explaining why this distinction exists. In this paper, however, we develop a definition of prosodic prominence in which a prominent position is one that assists language processing by guiding listeners to the location of a prosodic (typically foot or word) domain. It draws attention to the (usually, left) edge of the domain by giving this position greater perceptually salience, which is achieved by allowing a prominent (i.e. headed) melodic structure to be interpreted in that position. In English, for example, aspiration regularly marks the left edge of a foot (e.g., [ph]arrot
) and optionally, the left edge of a word (e.g., [ph]oétic
). As it involves the |H| element, this aspiration reinforces the segmental contrast between the p t k
series and the b d g
series. In addition, because aspiration involves |H| as a headed element, it carries structural information by marking the left edge of a prosodic domain. Notice that, if an initial stop such as p
becomes non-initial, then it loses its aspiration because it no longer has any prosodic marking function to perform, e.g. in stu
is foot-initial and therefore aspirated, whereas in stú
, it is foot-internal and therefore de-aspirates to match the relative weakness (non-prominence) of its position.
Other languages demonstrate how the remaining consonant elements | | and |N|
become headed if they are required to mark the boundary of a prosodic domain. For
example, the Penutian language Maidu (Fallon 2002) has a series of ejective stops [p’ t’
k’] which appear in syllable onsets (prosodically prominent) but not in syllable codas
(prosodically non-prominent). When [p’ t’ k’] occur before another consonant (i.e. in
coda position) they weaken to a plain stop (e.g., jèp’
ím kawáju ‘stallion’ ([p’] in onset),
s ([p] in coda)). This can be characterized straightforwardly by appealing to
headedness: when an ejective marks the left edge of a syllable, it retains its headedness
and is produced with ejective release; but in a coda it is not domain-initial and hence not
a prosodic marker. To reflect this, headed | | weakens to non-headed | |, resulting in a
plain released stop. This loss of headedness serves to maintain an equilibrium between
the prominence of a melodic structure and the prominence of the position where that
structure is interpreted.
A similar alternation between headed and non-headed is observed in the
near-extinct language Wiyot (Algic; California), but in this case it is the |N| element which is involved. In prominent domain-initial position |N| is headed and realized phonetically as obstruent voicing, as in the form [dákw] ‘it happens’. But when the voiced obstruent becomes domain-internal, as in [kó nakw] (*[kó dakw]) ‘it doesn’t happen’, headed |N| weakens to non-headed |N| and is reinterpreted by speakers as the corresponding nasal stop.
The fact that aspiration, ejective release and full voicing regularly serve as
prosodic markers is not accidental; these properties can occupy prosodically prominent
positions because they have prominent (headed) structures. Logically, they are also
among the properties that are absent from non-prominent (e.g. word-final,
pre-consonantal) positions. In this respect, segmental distribution appears to be driven
by prosodic structure; that is, melody is at least partially under the control of prosody. References
Backley, Phillip & Kuniya Nasukawa (2009). Headship as melodic strength. In Kuniya
Nasukawa & Phillip Backley (eds.), Strength relations in phonology
. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 47-77.
Fallon, Paul D. (2002). The synchronic and diachronic phonology of ejectiveness
Harris, John (1994). English sound structure
. Oxford: Blackwell. Harris, John (2005). Vowel reduction as information loss. In Philip Carr, Jacques
Durand & Colin J. Ewen (eds.), Headhood, elements, specification and contrastivity
, 119-132. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Harris, John & Geoff Lindsey (2000). Vowel patterns in mind and sound. In Noel
Burton-Roberts, Philip Carr & Gerry Docherty (eds.), Phonological knowledge: conceptual and empirical issues,
185-205. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nasukawa, Kuniya (2005). A unified approach to nasality and voicing
. Berlin and New
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