Phonetic and phonological properties of tones in Shanghai Chinese

In: Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale
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  • 1 Laboratoire de Langue et civilisation à tradition orale, CNRS–Université Paris 3 Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie, CNRS–Université Paris 3
  • 2 Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie, CNRS–Université Paris 3 Laboratoire Mémoire et cognition, INSERM–Université Paris 5

This study investigates the relations between tone, voicing, and voice quality in modern Shanghai Chinese. In low tone syllables, word-initial obstruent onsets are traditionally described as voiceless and breathy, and sonorant onsets as voiced and breathy.

Our study is based on acoustic and electroglottographic (EGG) data from speakers of two age groups (20–30 vs. 60–80 years). Our results are globally in line with previous studies, but with notable differences. In low tone syllables, while word-initial stops are phonetically voiceless most of the time, fricatives are quite often phonetically voiced. While low tone obstruent onsets are followed by breathier vowels than high tone onsets, this pattern is not clear-cut for nasal onsets. Furthermore, our transversal data show that low tone breathiness is more systematically produced by elderly – especially male – speakers, rather than young speakers, suggesting an on-going change towards the loss of breathiness.