A phonetic study of the sounds and tones in Xiangxiang Chinese


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Ting ZENG


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Feb 2012


This dissertation is a comprehensive phonetic study of the consonants, vowels and tones in Xiangxiang Chinese, which is one of the representatives of the old Xiang dialects of Chinese. Xiangxiang Chinese is among the poorly understood dialects of Chinese because of the lack of articulatory, aerodynamic and acoustic experiments investigating its sound system. For the consonants, three experiments were conducted. First, a palatographic and linguographic experiment was conducted to determine for each consonant which part of the palate makes contact with the tongue (place of articulation), which part of tongue makes contact with the palate (location of constriction), and the manner of articulation. Second, the acoustic properties associated with the voicing distinction in obstruents were studied. Specifically, several acoustic parameters identified in past studies as acoustic correlates of the voicing distinction in stops, fricatives and affricates were analysed. Third, an aerodynamic experiment was conducted on the prevocalic consonants that correspond to the Middle Chinese initial consonants /*n-/ and /*l-/, with the aim of determining whether this historical distinction in Middle Chinese has been lost or retained in modern Xiangxiang Chinese. To accomplish this, the Middle Chinese distinction between /*n-/ and /*l-/ was first defined by examining the aerodynamic characteristics of [n] and [l] in those Chinese dialects where these two segments are still contrastive as phonemes. The hypothesis was that these dialects may have preserved the phonetic details of this distinction and that these details cannot be recovered in any other way. For the vowels, an acoustic experiment was first conducted to study the formant patterns and temporal organisation of the monophthongs, diphthongs and triphthongs. Then an aerodynamic experiment was conducted to investigate the aerodynamic characteristics of vowel nasalisation. Specifically, the correlations between the degree of vowel nasalisation and factors like vowel height, vowel backness and type of nasal environment were examined. For the tones, an acoustic experiment was conducted on both citation tones and tone sandhi for bi-syllabic and poly-syllabic words. To have a better understanding of the nature of sounds in Xiangxiang Chinese, comparisons were made between the findings of the present study and i) the impressionistic descriptions of the phonetic characteristics of the sounds in Xiangxiang Chinese in past studies and ii) past findings on similar sounds in other (major) Chinese dialects or languages. Moreover, the results in this study that have implications for recent phonetic theories and models were highlighted and discussed in detail.

    Research areas

  • China, Phonetics, Chinese language, Xiang dialects, Xiangxiang Shi, Dialects