Rethinking Chinese Stress Theory

Main researcher:
Hana Třísková, PhD.
Oriental Institute

Chinese is a tone language. It has stress, too. There is a complicated interplay between tone and stress. The attempts to analyze Chinese stress using the approaches of Western phonology (such as metrical phonology or word stress concept) were so far unsuccessful. There is a vast array of various concepts suggested by linguists, none of them finding wider recognition. The results of perception experiments on stress carried out in native Chinese speakers are notoriously inconsistent. Entirely new approach, reflecting the specifics of sound structure of Chinese (a tonal language), is proposed. The hypothesis holds that “non-stress” (instead of stress), i.e. phonetic reduction (including tone reduction) appears to be a crucial phonological concept in Chinese. The objective is to carry out perception experiments, testing the hypothesis in native speakers of Mandarin Chinese. In case the results of the experiments support the hypothesis, new phonological interpretation of Chinese prosodic structure can be established. Moreover, such approach would offer better insight into the process of Second Language Acquisition, as well as improve the methods of teaching Chinese pronunciation.