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Ivan Chow, Michel Belyk, Vance Tran, and Steven Brown (2015)

Syllable synchronization and the P-center in Cantonese

Journal of Phonetics, 49(55-66).

In speech rhythm analysis, it is important to localize the perceptual center (P-center) of syllables in order to establish a basis for measuring syllabic duration. P-center research has focused primarily on Germanic languages, for which syllables tend to begin with multiple consonants. In Cantonese, the syllable-initial position contains no more than one consonant, making it less prone to durational variation. Studies of various language types using syllables beginning with a singleton indicate that the P-center is generally localized close to vowel onset within the initial consonant–vowel transition. In the present study, Cantonese speakers were found to localize the P-center to the initial consonant–vowel transition when repeating a sequence of identical syllables in a synchronized manner against an audible metronome. However, contrary to previous findings, the metronome beat was aligned close to the onset of the syllable-initial consonant. With increasing repetitions, syllable-initial consonant onset became more closely aligned with the beat while vowel onset became further removed. Similar behavioral patterns are found in sensorimotor synchronization studies (e.g., for finger tapping), suggesting that Cantonese speakers use syllable-initial consonant onset as an articulatory reference point in speech synchronization. Further investigation is needed to elucidate the prosodic and cognitive basis of this behavioral discrepancy.

synchronization, speech, rhythm