Relative Clause and Downstep in Japanese

Manami Hirayama, Hyun Kyung Hwang


It has been proposed that Japanese downstep, in which the pitch register is lowered after an accented phrase, is sensitive to certain syntactic boundaries. In this paper, we investigate whether downstep is blocked at the relative clause boundary in a production experiment with ten speakers. The results suggest that it does not block downstep. On the other hand, there is a difference between adjectives and verbs when they are used attributively with a head noun: Downstep is observed robustly in the verb condition, whereas there is much inter-speaker variation in the adjective condition. Taken together with the results of past research, we propose that the different patterns found by syntactic category, in particular, adjectives, verbs, and nouns, may be explained by assuming speakers’ knowledge of the behavior of these categories that is activated when they pronounce the phrase. Nouns and verbs are readily available as a combined concept in Japanese and thus downstep is not blocked, whereas combinations of adjectives are not so readily available, and thus speakers may insert a boundary, breaking up a phrase that would otherwise constitute a single domain for downstep.


downstep; Japanese; relative clause

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