The Segment Status of the Mandarin Glide: A Language Game Experiment




segmentation, Mandarin, language game


The acquisition of a phonological grammar requires the segmentation of an utterance into individual consonants and vowels as a first step, yet it is often taken as a given. I show that segmentation is not a trivial problem by drawing evidence from Mandarin Chinese, where the shortage of morphophonological processes leads to ambiguity in the segmentation of prenuclear glides. I present two language game experiments, in which Mandarin speakers are asked to disassemble syllables in their language, thus revealing their segmental structure. The task, based on fanqie secret languages, involves taking a disyllabic word and swapping its two onsets, in order to form a codeword. What the speaker does with the glide informs us on how they have segmented the sound. A key finding of the experiments is that /j/ is more likely to be treated as an independent segment after non-palatal onsets, compared to palatal ones. Speaker variation, both interspeaker and intraspeaker, is observed. Nevertheless, Mandarin speakers converge on three distinct types.

Author Biography

  • Boer Fu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    PhD student, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy






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