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This talk highlights recent research on the phonetics of tonal alignment in Yoloxóchitl Mixtec (YM). This language is notable for its large tonal inventory, where 20 tonal melodies contrast on monosyllabic words. The language’s phonological structure strongly supports the alignment of tonal targets to moras, resulting in contrastive contour types even within a single syllable, e.g. /1.3/ vs. /13.3/. Patterns of phonetic tonal alignment were investigated. The alignment of non-glottalized tonal targets was examined with original field data collected by the authors from 10 speakers. Words varied by word type (monosyllabic, disyllabic) and tone. Both the phonological patterning of tone and patterns of phonetic alignment demonstrate a strong pattern of moraic tonal alignment in YM. The F0 trajectories for bimoraic monosyllables closely match those of bimoraic disyllables. Moreover, in both word types, F0 movement is restricted to only the mora with the associated target. Thus, a rising /1.3/ tone shows a marked delay in F0 rise compared to the earlier rise observed with a /13.3/ tone. These findings support the notion that moras act as anchors for F0 targets and trajectories within tone production. Such patterns stand in stark contrast to studies on tone languages for which the syllable is the unit of tonal alignment [1, 2, 3, 4]. Taken as a whole, this research expands our knowledge of tonal phonetics and challenges what we believe is possible in the tonal systems of human languages. As a more general perspective on tonal phonetics will emerge from the consideration of a typologically-diverse set of languages, this work also highlights the increasing relevance of laboratory methods in phonetic fieldwork.


This research was presented at the 4th International Symposium on Tonal Aspects of Languages, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, May 13-16, 2014.

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