Phrasal stress in Mandarin disyllabic phrases: An investigation using focus

Author(s): Hao Yi

Abstract

Mandarin Chinese has been claimed to have phrasal stress which falls on a nonhead constituent: on the modifier in a Modifier-Noun phrase, and on the object in a Verb-Object phrase. This Nonhead Stress Rule is motivated by the greater information load carried by the nonhead than by its syntactic head. Taking Nonhead Stress Rule as a point of departure, the current study investigated Mandarin phrasal stress by using focus as a diagnostic tool. Fifteen pairs of homophonous disyllabic phrases, each pair consisting of a Modifier-Noun phrase and a Verb-Object phrase, were elicited under both Broad Focus and Narrow Focus. The hypothesis tested was that the nonhead has phrasal stress. Accordingly, the predictions were that (i) the nonhead will have greater duration under both focus conditions, and that (ii) duration increase of the nonhead will be greater under Narrow Focus. The results showed that at the phrase level, a Modifier-Noun and a homophonous Verb-Object phrase differed significantly in duration ratio, consistent with the interpretation that Modifier-Noun phrases exhibit initial stress and Verb-Object phrases exhibit final stress. Moreover, the duration difference was amplified under Narrow Focus. In sum, the contrastive stress patterns of Modifier-Noun and Verb-Object phrases support Nonhead Stress Rule.

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