Japanese pitch accent production in an English/Nupe/Hausa trilingual

Dr Becky Muradás-Taylor

Standard Japanese uses pitch accent to distinguish words such as initially-accented hashi ‘chopsticks’ and finally-accented hashi ‘bridge’. Research has shown that monolingual speakers of Standard Southern British English who learn Japanese as a second language acquire very little Standard Japanese pitch accent. The aim of this project is to investigate the pitch accent production of a learner of Japanese who has three first languages, English and the tone languages Nupe and Hausa. The participants’ pitch accent accuracy, stability, and acoustic realisation will be measured and compared to monolingual English-speaking learners of Japanese. 

This study will help us understand what influences the amount of Standard Japanese pitch accent that learners acquire. Monolingual English speakers’ difficulty with Standard Japanese pitch accent could be because pitch accent is not usually taught in Japanese language classes, or because learners are exposed to other varieties of Japanese with different pitch accent systems. Or it could be because pitch does not have lexical function in Standard Southern British English – although pitch can be used to distinguish word pairs such as the initially-stressed noun subject and the finally-stressed verb subject when spoken in citation form, stressed syllables in English can have a variety of pitch shapes, and so there is no one-to-one mapping between pitch shape and stress. Because the trilingual learner learned Japanese in the UK, with no pitch accent instruction, and had not been to Japan at the time of data collection, any difference between the trilingual speakers’ amount of Standard Japanese pitch accent acquisition, and that of monolingual English speakers, is likely to be due to their differing first language backgrounds, specifically the fact that Nupe and Hausa are both tonal, i.e. use pitch lexically. 

This project will be carried out by  measuring pitch accent accuracy, stability and acoustic realisation in a 3-minute audio recording of the trilingual learner. The results will be compared to previous research on monolingual English-speaking learners of Japanese.


Outputs (so far)

Muradás-Taylor, B. (2017). Japanese pitch accent in an English/Nupe/Hausa trilingual. In E. Babatsouli (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech 2017 (pp. 199–205). URL: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/2727/1/MURADAS-TAYLOR_ISMBS-2017.pdf

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