Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Beckman, Jill

First Committee Member

Ringen, Catherine

Second Committee Member

Rubach, Jerzy

Third Committee Member

Shea, Christine

Fourth Committee Member

McMurray, Bob


The goal of this thesis is to provide a detailed description and analysis of vowel-consonant interaction in Mandarin. Vowel-consonant interactions in Mandarin have been described and analyzed in the literature, but there is little agreement on the exact nature of the interactions, and no acoustic studies have been done to confirm impressionistic transcriptions. The data and analysis in this thesis show that vowel-consonant interaction is extensive in both Northern and Southwestern Mandarin, but the nature and degree of the interactions varies based on vowel, context (onset vs. coda), and dialect.

In this thesis, I provide an acoustic analysis and a theoretical account of vowel-consonant interactions in two different dialects of Mandarin that vary in their degree of interaction: the Northern dialect of eastern Hebei (similar to the Beijing dialect) and the Southwestern dialect of northeast Sichuan. The data analyzed was collected from native speakers of both dialects at Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu, and the analysis focuses on comparisons of the F1 and F2 of vowels in various onset and coda contexts. The theoretical account attempts to determine whether vowel-consonant interaction in Mandarin is best classified as a phonological process (e.g. assimilation) or a phonetic process (e.g. co-articulation). I explore possible analyses of the data under multiple theoretical frameworks, including serial rule-based phonology and Optimality Theory (OT), and compare the effectiveness of these analyses to a co-articulation account.

Traditionally, sound change phenomena are assumed to be either phonological or phonetic in nature. However, a detailed examination of the data collected reveals an unexpectedly large variety of vowel-consonant interaction effects. The effects range from subtle coarticulatory adjustments that can only be detected instrumentally to large magnitude differences that can be represented by a change in phonological features. The results of this study show that vowel-consonant interaction in Mandarin is even more extensive than previously documented, and that the line between phonetic and phonological processes may be more arbitrary than we like to believe.


coarticulation, Mandarin, phonology, Sichuan dialect, vowel assimilation


xii, 142 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 139-142).


Copyright 2016 Kelly Ann Carden

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