Effects of consonant aspiration on Mandarin tones

Ching X. Xu and Yi Xu

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America -- November 2001 -- Volume 110, Issue 5, p. 2655

In this paper we present an experiment on the influence of consonant aspiration in Mandarin. A minimal pair, /da/ and /ta/, which differ only in aspiration, are produced in carrier sentences by native speakers of Mandarin. It is found that consonant aspiration affects the fundamental frequency (F0) of the following vowel. The onset F0 of a tone is higher following unaspirated consonants than following aspirated consonants, and the magnitude of difference is related to both the current and preceding tones. However, the later part of a tone tends to be lower following an unaspirated consonant than an aspirated one. These results seem to favor the speech aerodynamic model proposed by Ohala (1976), which predicts a smaller value of airflow at the onset of the vowel following an aspirated stop than an unaspirated one. The current results, however, seem to provide further details about the mechanism of the aerodynamic effect. Additionally, results of detailed analyses seem to suggest a possible source of the existing controversies over the exact effect of aspiration on F0. The discrepancy in the previously reported effects may be partially due to the difference in how the first few vocal cycles of the vowel are measured in different studies.

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