吳實錄

Annals of Wu

漢藏緬語々言研究ㄟ博客
a sinotibetoburman linguistics blog
2014-11-14

A Possible Tonal Connection To Shanghainese Voiced Implosive Onsets discussion - tone

Zhengzhang Shangfang has previously written about voiced implosives in Shanghainese and Southern Wú. The very short summary is that in some Wú dialects implosives are found in place of the voiceless unaspirated onsets. So instead of [pʰ] [p] and [b], we see [pʰ] [ɓ] and [b]. They do not have corresponding vowel quality changes, so there is still a clear difference between /ɓa/ and /ba/ where the former lacks the breathy voicing found in the latter.

An oft-cited reason for this is that there must be some substratum, Tai-Kadai or otherwise, which had implosive obstruents and that's why they're showing up in Modern Wú.

This never sat well with me, and I know I'm not the only one. I recall talking to a respected scholar about this at one point and was answered with a comment along the lines of "substrates are what scholars point to when they really just don't know the answer".

There is one other possibility. The following is from a piece on phonemic tone but may apply here:

We can speculate both on articulatory and perceptual grounds [for a particular tonal phenomenon]. First, a possible explanation is that the voiced consonants went through an implosive stage (b > ɓ) before merging with the voiceless series. Since implosives have a tendency to raise the F0 of the following vowel, it would not be surprising to find lower tonal reflexes on vowels following historically voiceless consonants.

The significant part is this: Implosives do not do anything significant to fundamental frequency if developing from previously voiceless stops. A change from [b] to [ɓ] would result in a raising of F0, but [p] to [ɓ] wouldn't. No contrast would be lost by this change. It is conceivable that there are phonological motivations for this development. Rather than grasping at the substratum cause, which doesn't itself actually address the issue but rather only gives a convenient "hey look over there", there may be room for analysis on phonological grounds taking tone into consideration.

I'm not offering that here. But it's not a bad possibility for some future research.
  1. Jean-Marie Hombert. Consonnt Types, Vowel Quality, and Tone. In Fromkin, Victoria: Tone. 1978

Leave a comment




About

A semi-academic linguistics blog about Sinotibetan, previously focused primarily on Wú, a Sinitic language spoken in the Yangtze Delta region. Topics now include historical linguistics, documentation, language rights, sociolinguistics and learning materials, as well as acting as the dev blog for Phonemica from time to time.

I'm a linguist based in Asia, working on documentation and historical development of Sinotibetan. In addition to academic research, I'm heavily involved in Phonemica, an organisation that promotes crowd-sourced preservation of local languages.

I'm currently in the field, so getting in touch isn't easy. However you can try to email me at the following address and I'll respond as soon as I'm able:

yhilan.ko@gmail.com
© 2009-2017