The Emergence of the Binary Foot in Mandarin

Jason Brown, Shuxia Yang


While the binary foot is a common requirement across languages, formalized as a constraint, Ft-Bin is violable, and predicts patterns of latent binarity in some languages. This paper outlines the prosodic behaviour of synthetic compounds in Mandarin, which are demonstrated to yield output structures that must consist of binary feet, and where otherwise additional obligatory syllables will undergo tonal deletion in order to satisfy this requirement. The addition of classifiers and other function words into these compounds indicates that the foot is not syllabic, and the deletion of the tones associated with these morphemes indicates that feet are instead tonal in nature. These feet appear to be an emergent effect, whereby an optimal unmarked structure surfaces in specific contexts. In other words, Ft-Bin is enforced in synthetic compounds, and is only statistically active in the lexicon. The context for this emergence is a morphosyntactically derived form, contrary to predictions of recent approaches to constraint application, where constraints apply more stringently to inner domains. As such, foot binarity in compounds is likened to prosodic phenomena, such as reduplication.


Mandarin; Tone; Compounds; Feet

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Copyright (c) 2016 Jason Brown, Shuxia Yang

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