Tone-TBU Disparity in Three Phonologies of Cantonese

Luca Iacoponi


I propose a restricted theory of tone-TBU association called Basic Tonal Theory (BTT). BTT includes six well-attested constraints, and a restricted GEN. The typology contains attested cases of tone over-crowding resolution such as tone deletion, mora epenthesis, and mora deletion, but also predicts unattested cases of languages that resolve tonal crowding by using a combination of the aforementioned mechanisms based on the number of the morae in the input.

Cantonese has both monomaraic and bimoraic syllables, lexically specified tones, and a process of tonal suffixation that creates the context for tonal overcrowding. In an acoustic experiment, the duration and pitch of pairs of suffixed and underived forms were measured, and the analysis of the results shows that two of the three groups use a split-strategy to resolve tonal crowding.

The experiment thus provides empirical evidence for the typology of BTT. Furthermore, the proposed analysis can account for a case of near mergers previously argued to be unexplainable in an optimality framework.


Tone, Optimality Theory, tone bearing units, Cantonese, incomplete neutralization

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Copyright (c) 2014 Luca Iacoponi

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