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The Historical Development of Initial Accent in Trimoraic Nouns in Kyoto Japanese

  • Author(s): Angeles, Andrew
  • Advisor(s): Ito, Junko
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

This paper discusses the pathway, motivating factors, and mechanism of the historical development of the initial accent pattern in trimoraic nouns in Kyoto Japanese, tracing its development from being one of the least common patterns in Early Middle Japanese (ca. 12th century AD) to becoming the most common pattern for accented nouns in present-day Modern Kyoto Japanese.

Accent, defined as a pitch fall from high pitch to low pitch (Haraguchi 1999), if it is present, may in principle fall on any mora in a Kyoto Japanese word, as illustrated by the example in (1).

(1) Possible accent patterns in Modern Kyoto Japanese

a. I’noti ‘life’ H’LL initial accent

b. OTO’ko ‘man’ HH’L second accent

c. kaBU’to ‘helmet’ LH’L second accent

d. osaK'i ‘the future’ LLF final accent

Examination of the frequencies of each accent pattern reveals that possible accent locations are not equally prevalent. Instead, there is a clear preference for initial accent, with 68% of trimoraic accented native nouns having initial accent (Yoshida and Zamma 2001) and 73% of trimoraic accented nouns across all lexical strata having initial accent (calculated from raw data from Sugito 1995). Despite this present-day prevalence of the initial accent pattern, Kyoto Japanese accented trimoraic nouns did not always exhibit this preference. In the accentual system of Early Middle Japanese, the earliest recorded ancestral accentual system of the Kyoto Japanese branch, the initial accent pattern accounted for only about 6% of accented trimoraic nouns (calculated from Sugito 1995).

Previous investigations (e.g. Hata and Hasegawa 1988, Hasegawa and Hata 1995, Kawakami 1995 as cited by Nakai 2001, Matsumori 1999, 2008, and Shimabukuro 2007) have proposed accounts for what is likely to have happened in the developmental pathway from Early Middle Japanese to Modern Kyoto Japanese, suggesting that several accent classes merged into the initial accent pattern or otherwise merged into patterns which would eventually come to have initial accent. One pathway described in these accounts is as follows. A pitch rise enhancement process proposed by Kawakami (1995) occurred, whereby an L tone immediately preceding an H tone was lowered in order to enhance the contrast between them, causing any L tones preceding the lowered L tone to rise to H. Thus, for LLH, the following changes would occur: LLH > MLH > HLH. By this process, the Early Middle Japanese forms LLL, LLH, and LLF would gain the initial H tone needed to eventually merge into initial accent (HLL), becoming HHL, HLH, and HLF respectively. HLH and HLF became HLL due to a pressure for words to have only one peak (“culminativity”) (Nakai 2001, Shimabukuro 2007). HHL then underwent leftward kernel shift, shifting the lowering kernel on the second mora to the first mora, yielding HLL (Nakai 2001).

Although these accounts propose plausible changes to account for the differences between Early Middle Japanese and Modern Kyoto Japanese, these accounts generally do not focus on what factors were the seeds of change which contributed to the occurrence of the proposed changes, with the exception of Hata and Hasegawa (1988) and Hasegawa and Hata (1995), who attribute the rightward shift of accent to peak delay.

In this paper, I argue that the changes proposed in previous work can be attributed to pattern frequencies that cause learners to induce and rerank constraints in response to these frequencies, changing the grammar in learning generations and leading to the mergers of several accentual classes and thus the development of initial accent as the most common accented pattern in trimoraic nouns. Accordingly, in the development of Modern Kyoto Japanese, pattern frequencies are the seeds of change. Using the pitch rise enhancement process described above as a starting point, I propose four stages of development, with all but one (Stage 3) building on pattern frequencies created by the previous stage. The proposal is framed in the framework of Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993/2004), which allows for the precise specification of the state of the grammar at every stage in terms of competing pressures whose influence changes as constraints are reranked through the generations.

Pattern frequencies in pre-pitch rise enhanced nouns in the accentual system of Early Middle Japanese already show a weak preference for word-initial H tones. This weak preference in conjunction with the increased frequencies of word-initial H from Kawakami’s pitch rise enhancement process causes learners to induce INITIAL-H, a constraint which requires words to begin with an H tone, in Stage 1 and promote it to a higher rank. In Stage 2, INITIAL-H will have consequences for culminativity, preferring HLH > HLL instead of HLH > LLH. The constraint CULMINATIVITY becomes active because of relatively low frequencies of words with two peaks, causing learners to promote the constraint. In Stage 3, peak delay causes the change LHH > LLH. While this change does not directly lead to an increase in initial accent, as the new LLH forms do not become initial-accented, it nonetheless plays a role in reducing the amount of multiply-linked H tones in the accentual system, serving as the catalyst for Stage 4. In Stage 4, the change HHL > HLL occurs due to the promotion of NOMULTILINK-H, a constraint prohibiting H tones from being linked to multiple moras (Ito and Mester 2018), on the basis of the reduced prevalence of multiply-linked H tones resulting from peak delay in the previous stage.

Finally, a test of the initial Early Middle Japanese data using Hayes and Wilson (2008)’s UCLA Phonotactic Learner induces a constraint similar to the INITIAL-H constraint proposed here, suggesting that learners can induce constraints and vary their strengths based on pattern frequencies in the input data.

The contribution of the present investigation, therefore, is twofold. First, the present study advances our understanding of the development of the modern-day prevalence of initial accent in Modern Kyoto Japanese trimoraic accented nouns. Second, the present study advances our understanding of what kinds of factors can influence the reranking and promotion of constraints, both in Japanese and beyond. As one such factor, the present study proposes that constraints can be reranked on the basis of the surface frequencies of patterns present in the input learners receive.

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