Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 259–302

A directional asymmetry in Chinese tone sandhi systems



Chinese tone sandhi systems are often classified as left-dominant or right-dominant depending on the position of the syllable retaining the citation tone. An asymmetry exists between the two types of systems: left-dominant sandhi often involves rightward extension of the initial tone to the entire sandhi domain; right-dominant sandhi, however, often involves default insertion and paradigmatic neutralization of nonfinal tones. I argue that the extension of a tone to a larger domain may serve two markedness purposes: the reduction of tonal contours on a syllable and the reduction of pitch differences across syllable boundaries, both of which have a rightward directionality preference. The former is due to the durational advantage afforded by final lengthening; the latter is due to the universal preference for progressive tonal coarticulation. I show that a theory that formally encodes these preferences via intrinsic constraint rankings can predict the directional asymmetry noted above.


Tone sandhi Tone spreading Contour tones Optimality Theory Factorial typology Faithful Alignment 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsThe University of KansasLawrenceUSA

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