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Research Seminar "A Global Typological Divide: Prosodic Focus with or without Post-Focus Compress...
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Topic:  Research Seminar "A Global Typological Divide: Prosodic Focus with or without Post-Focus Compression"
posted itemPosted - 23/12/2009 :  11:19:29

Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics

Research Seminar

A Global Typological Divide: Prosodic Focus with or without Post-Focus Compression

Presented by

Dr. Xu Yi

Department of Speech, Hearing and Phonetics Sciences

University College London, UK

Date: 5 January 2010 (Tuesday)
Time: 4:30 - 6:00pm
B7603 (Lift 3, 7/F, Blue Zone), Academic Building, CityU


Much of the existing research on prosodic focus has tried either to search for cross-linguistic phonetic universals in terms of prominence, or to argue that every language employs a unique focus-related phonology. A different line of research in the last two decades has shown evidence that focus involves phonetic variations not only in the focused component itself, but also in the post-focus components. Specifically, post-focus words are given reduced pitch range and intensity, a phenomenon referred to as post-focus compression (PFC). More recent research has shown that languages are divided in terms of the presence of PFC: while Beijing Mandarin and English both belong to PFC languages, Taiwanese and Cantonese do not. More interestingly, Taiwan Mandarin, unlike Beijing Mandarin, seems to belong to the second group. These new findings have lead to a novel hypothesis: that PFC forms a global typological divide for all languages, and that such a divide is geographically based, and is formed historically through language contact, as is apparently the case in Taiwan Mandarin which has been in close contact with Taiwanese for only several decades. Theoretical implications in terms of language evolution, human migration and experimental typology will also be discussed.


Dr. Xu Yi is a Reader in Speech Science at University College London, United Kingdom. He received his Ph. D. in Linguistics from the University of Connecticut in 1993, and then was a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He later served as a faculty member at Northwestern University and as a researcher at the University of Chicago and Haskins Laboratories. He has published widely since 1986, covering topics on the production, perception and theoretical modeling of tone, intonation, segment and the syllable. He has also done work on auditory feedback in speech production, emotion in speech, short-term memory in reading and neural-network simulation of acquisition of tone and intonation. His early work was focused mainly on how lexical tones in Mandarin were produced and perceived in continuous speech. From this work he developed the Target Approximation model (TA). He then extended the model to intonation in the form of the Parallel Encoding and Target Approximation model (PENTA). His most recent work has attempted to extend TA to speech production in general. He has served on the editorial board of Phonetica since 2004.

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