Evidence for Metrical Prominence Asymmetries in Medʉmba


  • Kathryn H Franich University of Chicago




metrical structure, speech cycling, Bantu, rhythm, speech production


Headedness has played a crucial role in the characterization of metrical structure since the earliest proposals for its existence, with definitions of headedness typically relying on the notion of relative syllable prominence: heads are said to bear relatively greater prominence than nonheads. But what counts as prominent for the sake of headedness varies widely across languages, particularly where evidence for stress is weak or absent. The present work seeks to look beyond acoustic evidence for headedness by conceptualizing metrical prominence in terms of its coordinative role in speech timing. Here, we examine timing of metrically-prominent syllables in Medʉmba, a Grassfields Bantu language spoken in Cameroon. Medʉmba has no phonetic evidence of stress, but displays evidence of metrical prominence asymmetries at the word level. We use the speech cycling paradigm (Cummins & Port 1998) to compare results regarding the timing of metrically prominent syllables in Medʉmba with those from previous work on stressed syllables in English and accented syllables in Japanese and Korean, showing that a unified notion of metrical prominence can be applied across languages.