Perceptual Cues to Lexical Tone in Burmese

James Gruber


Lexical tone in Modern Burmese is a complex contrast where systematic differences in intensity, duration, phonation type, and vowel quality operate alongside pitch distinctions. Prior phonetic studies have confirmed that speakers produce distinct values for each of these phonetic qualities with each tone (Thein Tun 1982, Watkins 2005, Gruber 2010). This study asked twelve native speakers of Burmese to identify resynthesized single syllable stimuli as bearing one of the four tones in a forced-choice test. Results indicate that Burmese listeners necessarily use all three properties examined (duration, pitch, and phonation type) in their perception grammar.

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