Place contrast enhancement: The case of the alveolar and retroflex sibilant production in two dialects of Mandarin

Yung hsiang Shawn Chang, Chilin Shih

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While segmental contrasts are under prosodically strong conditions, acoustic properties encoding the contrastive features are generally exaggerated, which gives rise to phonological enhancement. One exception that previous research found for such prosodic effects is on consonantal place of articulation (Cole, Kim, Choi, & Hasegawa-Johnson, 2007; Silbert & de Jong, 2008). Whether this is an issue of the nature of the segments under study, or a language-specific phenomenon is worth further investigation. This paper builds on Chuang and Fon's (2010) study of Taiwan Mandarin alveolar and retroflex sibilants and extends the examination to another dialect of Mandarin, Beijing Mandarin. With a series of map tasks to elicit natural yet well-controlled data, this study asks whether contrastive focus realizations of the alveolar-retroflex contrast vary across vowel contexts between the two dialects. Results show that, consistent with Silbert and de Jong's finding for place distinction in English fricatives, focal prominence may result in the exaggeration of non-contrastive dimensions (i.e., longer syllable and frication duration as well as higher frication amplitude) without enhancing feature-defining properties (i.e., a greater acoustic distance between alveolar and retroflex sibilants). It is suggested that the place feature, particularly in coronal sibilants, is generally less subject to cue-enhancing hyperarticulation, regardless of languages and dialects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-66
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Phonetics
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • Contrast enhancement
  • Contrastive focus
  • Mandarin alveolar-retroflex contrast
  • Map tasks
  • Place of articulation
  • Prosodic strengthening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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