Speech Prosody 2006

Dresden, Germany
May 2-5, 2006

Phonetics vs. Phonology in Tamil wh-Questions

Elinor Keane

Oxford University Phonetics Laboratory & Christ Church, Oxford, UK

Wh-questions in Tamil are not distinguished from declarative utterances by either pitch accent type or boundary tone. Acoustic analysis of data from 18 speakers comparing whquestions with corresponding declaratives revealed that the lexical marking of interrogativity is nevertheless accompanied by differences in intonation. The most consistent result was raising of f0 peaks in question words and in a majority of speakers, including all the females, sentence offset f0 was significantly higher in questions. This tended to be accompanied by lowering of f0 peaks following question words, resulting in some compression of the pitch register. In marking interrogativity Tamil thus manipulates gradient phonetic parameters, adding further fuel to the debate about whether such parameters can directly signal linguistic information or are mediated via some elaborated phonological representation.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Keane, Elinor (2006): "Phonetics vs. phonology in Tamil wh-questions", In SP-2006, paper 002.