New Notes on the Rise-Fall Contour

In: Journal of Jewish Languages
Rachel Steindel Burdin University of New Hampshire Durham, nh USA

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This study examines the production and use of the rise-fall contour by three Yiddish/English bilinguals in a small American Jewish community. Acoustic analysis shows that the Yiddish rise-falls have higher peaks, larger rise spans, and later Tonal Centers of Gravity compared to a similar intonational contour in English. These results hold for all three speakers despite their diverse linguistic histories. Additionally, evidence is provided that rise-falls with higher peaks have social meaning in both languages. English rise-falls are produced with higher peaks during meetings of a local Yiddish club than during one-on-one interviews, and rise-falls with high peaks are used in both Yiddish and English during an exchange in which one of the speakers discusses his relationship to Passover. The social meaning of the phonetically extreme rise-falls is posited to be the reason why all three speakers have either successfully acquired or maintained phonetic distinctiveness between their English and Yiddish.

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