IP-final boundary tones in Dutch: phonetic or phonological categories?

Vincent J. van Heuven, University of Leiden (V.J.J.P.van.Heuven@let.leidenuniv.nl)

The question whether certain distinctions in the speech signal are phonological (contrasting phonemes) or phonetic (allophones within one phoneme) typically arises in the context of segmental structure. However, with the increased attention for prosodic structure the same issue has now come up with reference to melodic distinctions.

At the end of Dutch intonation phrases (at least) three prosodic boundaries are possible: (i) a final low target ‘L%’ (final lowering), (ii) a final high target ‘H%’ (final rise) and (iii) a tonally unmarked boundary ‘%’ (level pitch), which would be intermediate between L% and H%. It is unclear at the moment to what extent these three boundaries can be associated with specific meanings or pragmatic functions (e.g. statement/command, question, continuation), and if three boundary types are to be considered phonological or phonetic categories in the intonation grammar of Dutch.

We used categorical perception as the recommended diagnostic to decide on the status of the three boundary types. To this effect we ran identification and discrimination tests on boundary tone continuum between low (80 Hz) and high terminal pitch comprising nine perceptually equal steps (separated by 0,25 ERB).

The results indicate that the continuum is divided into two phonological categories: low versus non-low (possibly meaning ‘speaker dominant’ ~ ‘speaker subservient’). The non-low category in turn subtends a phonetic gradient between moderate and strong subservience, a meaning dimension that would be compatible with a gradual and rather fuzzy cross-over from continuation to question.

CLCG Klankleer Group Workshop 'On the Boundaries of Phonology and Phonetics'