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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Syllable duration in Tai Phake: The interaction between vowel length and tone length

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Tai Phake (Tai Kadai/Southwestern Tai) has six lexical tones, and nine phonemic vowels plus a length distinction between /a/ and //. Following Banchob Bandhumedha (1987), the long // is written as <ā>. The vowel length distinction is only found when there is a final nasal (/m/, /n/, /ŋ/), semivowel (/i/, /u/) or stop (/p/, /t/, /k/). Three of the six tones are mid falling tones, which are conventially notated as Tone 3, Tone 4 and Tone 5. Tone 3 is creaky and is primarily distinguished from the others by phonation. Tone 4 is mid falling and short, whereas Tone 5 is mid falling and longer. In the speech of the Tai Phake speakers presented here, the most salient distinction between these two mid falling tones is usually length, thus in citation /⁴/ ‘mother‘s sister’ was half the length of /⁵/ ‘melt away’. This paper presents some preliminary findings on the interaction between vowel length and tone length, findings that we hope can lay the foundation for more detailed phonetic studies in the future.

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