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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tonal Assignment in English Loanwords in Mandarin Chinese

  • Author(s): Glewwe, Eleanor
  • Advisor(s): Zuraw, Kie
  • et al.

English words borrowed into Mandarin Chinese must be assigned tones. This thesis investigates which properties of the English form influence the tones English loanwords receive in Mandarin. The investigation is two-pronged, consisting of a corpus study of English borrowings in Mandarin and an online loanword adaption experiment with Mandarin speakers. The two approaches yield different results. The corpus study, which builds on earlier work by Wu (2006), points to English voicing as the primary determinant of tone in Mandarin: English sonorant and voiced obstruent onsets tend to trigger rising tone assignment while English voiceless obstruents tend to trigger high tone assignment. This is hypothesized to be due to the F0 perturbations caused by voiced and voiceless onsets. In the corpus study, English stress plays only a minor role in Mandarin tonal assignment. In contrast, stress is the most important determinant of tone in the loanword adaptation experiment. Stressed syllables are most often adapted with high tone, with final stressed syllables also showing a strong preference for falling tone. The voicing effect found in the corpus is not found in the experiment. These results suggest that tonal adaptation depends on overall English intonation rather than small F0 perturbations. I discuss possible reasons for the two studies’ conflicting results, as well as what they reveal about the broader picture of Mandarin tonal adaptation.

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