Gradience in Contextual Tonal Variantions in Nanjing Chinese
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This study investigates whether there is clear distinction between tone sandhi and tonal coarticulation. Three types of tonal variations are discovered in the disyllabic tonal contexts in Nanjing Chinese based on the production experiment: within-category variations, category-overlapping variations, and category-neutralization variations. The difference among the three types is the extent to which a surface tone overlaps with another phonemic tone. Within-category variations do not alter a tone’s shape and identity. However, the contrast between two phonemic tones is neutralized completely in category-neutralizing variations. In addition, a tone’s shape can alter and its direction of F0 movement and can be mostly overlapped but not neutralized with another phonemic tone. This indicates that there is an intermediate state between traditionally defined tone sandhi and tonal coarticulation. Moreover, the three types of contextual tonal variations share the same phonetic motivations such as assimilation and peak delay. Therefore, phonological alternations can be rooted in phonetic variations. A series of perception experiments show that the acoustic similarity of two tones in category-overlapping variations causes perceptual confusion but perceptual distinction is preserved to some extent in the category-overlapping variations. The perception space shows that two tones connected by category-overlapping variations are as perceptually close as two tones connected by category-neutralizing variations. Therefore, category-overlapping variations may be phonologized into complete neutralization due to perceptual similarity and corresponding confusion. Instead of a clear boundary between categories, gradience should be allowed in the process of phonologization and phonology.