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Acoustic correlates of word-accent in Basque

Acoustic correlates of word-accent in Basque
José Ignacio Hualde & Ander Beristain
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA,
Basque dialects differ substantially in their accentual
properties. Previous work has focused mainly on phonological
aspects of this prosodic diversity, such as the systems of rules
for accent assignment. Less attention has been paid to variation
in the acoustic realization of word-accent. Here we examine the
realization of lexical accentual prominence in three different
local varieties, which represent the three main Basque prosodic
types: Azpeitia (in Gipuzkoa), Ondarroa (Northern Bizkaia)
and Goizueta (Navarre). We consider the role of differences
between syllables in pitch and duration in establishing lexical
contrasts in these three Basque dialects. The three varieties
examined differ substantially in the use of these acoustic
features as correlates of accent, which raises questions about
their diachronic development and about the typology of
accentual systems.
Index Terms: acoustic cues of accent, Basque phonology,
pitch-accent language.
1. Introduction
A remarkable aspect of variation in present-day Basque is the
existence of a great diversity of prosodic systems within a
relatively small territory [1, 2, 3]. In addition to local varieties
without any accentual contrasts, we find three main word-
prosodic systems.
Some local dialects have stress-accent systems comparable
to those found in many other European languages, where words
may contrast in the position of the accent. This is the case in
one of the three varieties we examine here, the dialect spoken
in Azpeitia (in the Urola Valley of central Gipuzkoa), where,
for instance, básue ‘the drinking glass’ forms a minimal pair
with basué ‘the forest’, and the phrase gizonán etxié ‘the man’s
house’ contrasts in the position of the accent in the first word
with gizónan etxié ‘the men’s house’ [4]. The main accentual
rule in the Azpeitia dialect assigns the stress-accent to the third
syllable from the beginning of the word, a typologically very
unusual rule [5].
In an area of Northwestern Navarre, including the town of
Goizueta, which we also analyze here, both the position of the
accent and its tonal shape are contrastive, in a manner
reminiscent of languages like Central Swedish [6, 7] and
Papiamentu [8]. According to their prosodic properties, there
are four classes of words in Goizueta Basque: (a) with rising
accent on the second syllable (the majority class), e.g. gizón
‘man’, etxé ‘house’, basó ‘forest’, alábadaughter', (b) with
rising accent on the first syllable, e.g. séme ‘son’, zéru ‘sky’(c)
with falling accent in the first syllable, e.g. bàso ‘glass’, zèro
‘zero’, àrima ‘soul’, and (d) with falling accent on the second
syllable, e.g. eskòla ‘school’, basèrri ‘farm’. Singular and
plural forms are accented on the same syllable but, for most
lexical items, differ in tonal shape, rising in the sg., as in
gizónan etxéa ‘the man’s house’ and falling in the pl., gizònan
etxéa ‘the men’s house’ [9].
Finally, on the coast of Bizkaia and immediate hinterland
we find pitch-accent systems with a contrast between
unaccented and accented words, as in Tokyo Japanese. Thus, in
the dialect spoken on the coastal town of Ondarroa, which we
study in this investigation, the noun phrase gixonan etxí ‘the
man’s house’, where the first word, in the genitive sg., is
unaccented, contrasts with gixónan etxí ‘the men’s house’, with
two accents [10]. Similarly, the word /baso/ ‘forest’ is
unaccented and forms a minimal pair with /báso/ drinking
glass’, e.g. baso andixé ‘the big forest’ vs báso andixé ‘the big
drinking glass’.
The existence of these three very different accentual
systems, including one accentual type without parallels in the
languages of Europe (northern Bizkaian), makes Basque a
unique case to study prosodic evolution. Notice that in all three
accentual systems just reviewed there is an accentual contrast
between sg. and pl. forms of nouns, although implemented in
different ways. This fact, together with the distribution of words
in accentual classes, clearly suggests a relatively recent
common origin, even if nowadays these are typologically quite
different prosodic systems [11].
To date, research on the acoustic manifestation of accent in
Basque, as opposed to its distribution and phonological
analysis, has been limited, but it suggests that there are also
important differences among varieties in this respect [12, 13,
14]. Differences in methodology, however, make comparison
difficult to establish in some cases. Here we contribute to this
investigation by examining three phonologically very different
varieties, those of Azpeitia, Goizueta and Ondarroa, mentioned
in the above paragraphs, using a common methodology for data
collection and analysis. Besides its descriptive value, a better
knowledge of how the different accentual systems found in
Basque differ at the phonetic level may help us understand how
prosodic diversification came about.
2. Methods
Language data gathering for this study took place in three
different towns, which are among the most strongly Basque-
speaking towns in the Basque Country. In Goizueta, which is a
small town of less than 800 people, about 95% of the population
speaks Basque. In Azpeitia 82% of its about 14800 inhabitants
are Basque speakers, and in Ondarroa 76% of its almost 9000
inhabitants speak Basque. Participants in our experiment were
all native speakers of the local variety of Basque. They also
speak Spanish and Standard Basque, which is used in the school
system. They were recruited via the “friend of a friend” method
and form a homogeneous group in terms of age. Here we report
on data from 18 speakers (all female), 6 per town. Average age
= 23.1, range = 18-27. Data collection took place in the three
towns whose dialect we are investigating, always in a quiet
TAL2018, Sixth International Symposium on Tonal Aspects of Languages
18-20 June 2018, Berlin, Germany
98 10.21437/TAL.2018-20
room. We used a MicroTrack 24/96 recorder with a SONY F-
720 external microphone.
Before taking part in the experiment, participants were
provided with a consent form, which they were asked to sign.
The experimental task involved producing sentences in the
local Basque dialect using written stimuli presented on
PowerPoint. The stimuli that were presented to the participants
consisted of a phrase in Spanish, he dicho el de (TARGET) ‘I said
the one of TARGET’, followed by the target word in Basque,
either in its uninflected form or with the sg. article (which is the
citation form in Basque), and the phrase ‘I said’ in the local
Basque variety. Participants were thus requested to orally
inflect the word that was provided in the genitive case (either
sg. or pl.) and place it in the context of the carrier phrase.
Basque is a verb-final language and thus the target word is in
preverbal (focus) position. An example of stimulus is (for
Azpeitia Bq): He dicho el del ladrón/ (lapur)______ esan det.
The expected answer would be lapurréna esan det ‘I said the
one of the thief’. The list of stimuli included 24 items, which
were elicited in both the genitive sg. and the genitive pl.. To
avoid potential confusion, all sg. forms were elicited first. Two
repetitions of each sentence were obtained.
The words selected as targets for this experiment are all
bisyllabic in their uninflected form and end in either a nasal or
a rhotic (which were expected to be easier to segment from
adjacent vowels than other segments while introducing smaller
pitch perturbations than other consonants): e.g. enbor ‘log’,
eper ‘partridge’, gezur ‘lie’, gizon ‘man’, piper ‘pepper’. All
target words belong to the regular or unmarked accentual class
in all three dialects and are expected to show a difference in
accentuation between sg. and pl. On the other hand, the genitive
sg. and pl. suffixes are segmentally identical in these three
dialects (-an-; in Azpeitia -en- after a high vowel). Comparison
of sg. and pl. forms of the same lexical items thus allows for the
observation of accentual effects in words with the same
segmental composition.
In Azpeitia Basque, the general accent rule places the
stress-accent on the third syllable from the beginning of the
word. Words with this pattern in the sg. retract the accent one
syllable in the pl., as in lapurréna ‘the one of the thief’ vs
lapúrrena ‘the one of the thieves’ [4].
In Goizueta, both sg. and pl. forms are expected to be
accented on the second syllable, but with a difference in pitch
accent, raising in the sg. and falling in the pl., e.g. lapúrrana
(sg.) vs lapùrrana (pl.) [9].
Finally, in Ondarroa the sg. forms of our target items are
expected to be unaccented and their pl. to bear an accent on their
penultimate syllable. Underlyingly unaccented words,
however, only surface as such if not phrase final. In phrase-final
position, the accented/unaccented contrast is neutralized in
Ondarroa, since another rule places an accent on the
penultimate syllable of unaccented phrases [10]. For this
reason, in this dialect target words were elicited followed by the
copula ‘is’ (so that the word- and phrasal domains do not
coincide), e.g. lapurraná ra ‘it is the one of the thief’ (phrase-
penult accent, underlyingly unaccented) vs lapurrána ra ‘it is
the one of the thieves’ (word-penult accent).
The sound files were analyzed in Praat [15]. For Azpeitia
and Goizueta, the vowels of the first three syllables of all target
words (V1, V2, V3) were segmented in the textgrids. For
Ondarroa, instead, V2, V3 and V4 were segmented.
Measurements of mean pitch of each vowel in Hz (using the
autocorrelation algorithm in Praat), duration and mean intensity
of each vowel in dB (with the standard parameter options in
Praat) were obtained automatically with a script. The relevant
comparison between sg. and pl. forms are different for each
dialect, given differences in the location of the accent.
3. Results
We report on acoustic differences between vowels in different
syllables of the word as appropriate for each dialect. Linear
mixed effects regression analyses (lmer) on mean F0, mean
intensity and duration differences between vowels were
performed with the package afex [16] (using lme4 [17]) in R
[18] with the RStudio interface [19]. P-values were calculated
by the Satterthwaite approximation method. In all regressions
Sg./Pl. and Repetition were entered as fixed factors and Speaker
and Word as random factors [20] (the maximum structure in
terms of intercepts and slopes that allowed each model to
converge was used).
3.1. Azpeitia
In Azpeitia Basque the accent falls on the third syllable in sg.
forms and on the second syllable in the pl. of our target items.
Figure 1 contains a sg/pl minimal pair: lapurréna ‘the one of
the thief’, lapúrrenathe one of the thieves’ (to make the figure
the target words have been extracted from their frames in the
productions by one of our speakers and pasted one after the
other). In this context, the accentual contour involves a rise over
the accented syllable, LH* [4]. Consider the difference between
/u/ and /e/ in the two contours in Fig. 1.
Figure 1: Azpeitia: lapurréna (sg), lapúrrena (pl).
We have calculated differences between the vowels in the
second and third syllables of each word. To the extent that a
given acoustic parameter is used as a cue for accent, we expect
the V2–V3 difference to produce positive values in the pl.
(where V2 is accented) and negative values in the sg. (where
V3 is accented) [4].
Figure 2 shows V2–V3 differences in mean F0 in pl. and
sg. forms for each of our six Azpeitia speakers separately. For
all six speakers together, V2 V3 F0, Pl. mean = 16.5 Hz (stdev
11.7), Sg. mean = -15.13 Hz (9.5). As expected mean values are
positive in pl. words and negative in sg. words. A linear mixed-
effects regression analysis returned a significant effect of
Sg./Pl. (with random slopes for Speaker and random intercepts
only for Word; t= -7.36, p<0.0001, Est.= -31.6 Hz). That is, F0
is a significant correlate of accent.
F0 (Hz)
l a p u rr é n a l a p ú rr e n a
Time (s)
Figure 2: Difference in F0 between V2 and V3 in plural (pl)
and singular (sg) forms for six Azpeitia speakers.
Mean durations for the first three vowels of each word are
shown in Table 1. Notice that V3 is longer than the other two
vowels both in sg. forms, where it is accented, and in pl. forms,
where the accent is on V2.
Table 1. Azpeitia.Vowel duration in ms: mean (sd)
Figure 3 shows differences in duration between V2 and V3.
From the means and standard deviations in Table 1 and visual
inspection of the boxplots in Figures 2 and 3, it is clear that
duration does not distinguish between sg. and pl. words in
Azpeitia as reliably as pitch, although in Figure 3 for five of the
six speakers, there is a larger V2–V3 negative duration
difference in the sg. than in the pl. This relatively small
difference turns out to be significant in our lmer (random slopes
for both Speaker and Word, t= -3, p <0.01, Est.= -7.6 ms.),
contrary to the results in [4], where no significant effect of
accent position on duration was found.
Figure 3: Difference in duration between V2 and V3 in plural
(pl) and singular (sg) forms for six Azpeitia speakers
A regression on mean intensity differences between V2
and V3 also returned a significant effect of the sg./pl. contrast
(full random effect structure, t= -5, p <0.001, Est.= -2.5 dB).
V2 is more intense in the pl., where it is accented, resulting in a
greater difference in pitch between the two syllables.
3.2. Goizueta
In Goizueta Basque the accent falls on the second syllable on
both sg. and pl. forms, with a difference in pitch contour, see
Figure 4, asúnana ‘the one of the thistle’, asùnana ‘the one of
the thistles’ (consider the F0 curve over /u/).
Figure 4: Goizueta: asúnana (sg), asùnana (pl)
For Azpeitia we compared acoustic differences between
vowels because sg. and pl. forms are accented on different
syllables. In Goizueta, however, there are no differences in
accent placement: the accented second syllable anchors a pitch
accent in both sg. and pl. To capture the difference between
raising and falling contours, we may measure the average pitch
of the vowel in the third syllable, which is expected to be higher
when the second syllable has a rising tone, see Figure 4. V3 F0
values for sg. and pl. words are shown in Figure 5. A regression
analysis reveals a significant difference in F0 between sg. and
pl., t= 10.7, p<0.0001, Est.= 21 Hz, random slopes for both
Figure 5: Mean F0 (Hz) in V3 for Goizueta speakers
Regarding duration, both in the sg. and in the pl., the
accented V2 is longer than the vowels of the preceding and
following syllables, but this lengthening of V2 is greater in the
pl., see Table 2 and Figure 6. This difference in the duration of
V2 between the pl. and the sg. is significant, t=-6.1, p<0.001,
Est.= -20 ms, random slopes for both factors. An lmer on V2
intensity did not return a significant effect of the Sg./Pl. factor.
Table 2 : Goizueta. Vowel duration in ms: mean(sd)
F0 (Hz)
a s ú n a n a a s ù n a n a
Time (s)
Figure 6: Duration of V2 in singular and plural forms for six
Goizueta speakers.
3.3. Ondarroa
In our target words we expect the accent to fall on the last
syllable of sg. forms (V4), with phrasal accent, and on the
penult of pl. forms (V3), see Figure 7.
Figure 7: Ondarroa: enborraná ra (sg, phrasal accent),
enborrána ra (pl, lexical accent)
Figure 8: Difference in F0 between V3 and V4 in plural (pl)
and singular (sg) forms for six Ondarroa speakers.
Pitch accents in Ondarroa Basque and other Northern Bizkaian
varieties have been described as having a H*L configuration
[13, 21]. This should result in positive values in pl. forms when
the difference between the accented V3 and the following
vowel V4 is calculated and in values close to zero in sg. forms,
where the accent is on V4. This is indeed what we find in the
data for all six Ondarroa speakers, see Figure 8. Sg./Pl. has a
significant effect, t=-4, p< 0.001, Est. = -13.5 Hz, random
slopes for both Speaker and Word.
Regarding the role of duration as cue for accent, the
boxplots in Figure 9 suggest an effect for only some speakers
(see [14] for the neighboring town of Lekeitio). A regression on
the difference in duration between V3 and V4 analysis did not
return a significant effect of the Sg./Pl. contrast. On the other
hand, a significant effect was found on a regression on intensity
(t = -4.8, p <0.001, Est. = -2.7 dB, random slopes for Speaker
only), with the difference between the two syllables being
greater in the pl., where V3 is accented.
Figure 9: Difference in duration between V3 and V4 in plural
(pl) and singular (sg) forms for six Ondarroa speakers.
Table 3 : Ondarroa. Vowel duration in ms: mean(sd)
4. Conclusions
In all three Basque dialects examined, pitch turns out to be the
most robust correlate of word-accent. Accentual contours are,
however, different in each dialect: LH* in Azpetia, H*L in
Ondarroa and contrastively LH* or HL* in Goizueta. Dialects
differ considerably in the use of duration as a cue to accent. In
Goizueta, where rising and falling contours are lexically
specified, duration plays an important role in signaling the
accented syllable, especially in words with a falling accentual
contour. Duration has only a marginal role in Azpeitia and is
not consistently used as a correlate of accent in Ondarroa. The
role of intensity is greatest in Azpeitia and smallest in Goizueta.
Ondarroa plurals (and other lexically accented words) show
a H*L accent. A retraction of the peak may account for the fact
that in Goizueta the same set of words have a falling accent
HL*. The Azpeitia accentual system appears to derive from a
system like that of Ondarroa, the most important development,
from a typological perspective, being the reinterpretation of
unaccented words as lexically accented on a specific syllable
[13, 22]. Such a reinterpretation of unaccented words also
appears to have taken place in Goizueta. It is likely that the
robust use of duration as a cue for accent is an innovation in
Goizueta, as pitch information on the location of the accented
syllable is reduced in words with a falling accent. We speculate
that in a system where the position of the accent within the word
is lexically contrastive an additional lexical contrast in the pitch
contour of the accentented would tend to be enhanced by
recruiting other acoustic features as accentual correlates.
5. Acknowledgements
We are thankful to our Basque speakers from Azpeitia,
Goizueta and Ondarroa for their collaboration.
F0 (Hz)
en bo rra ra en bo rrá na ra
Time (s)
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This methodological paper attempts to bring the problem of pseudoreplication to the attention of the phonetic community. Pseudoreplication refers to the treatment of dependent observations as independent data points, which causes an overabundance of erroneously significant results. The relevance of this problem is demonstrated by analyses of phonetic data, and it is shown that the problem occurs frequently in the phonetic literature. Finally, simple solutions to combat pseudoreplication in the design and analysis of phonetic experiments are proposed.
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The term ‘pitch-accent language’ is used in reference to languages like Swedish, where words contrast in the melody associated with the stressed syllable, and it is also applied to languages like Tokyo Japanese, where words have at most one syllable specified as bearing a tonal contour (accent), including an unaccented class. Both types of ‘pitch-accent language’ are found in different Basque dialects: Coastal Bizkaian Basque varieties have a prosodic system that resembles that of Tokyo Japanese and some local dialects of western Navarre, such as Goizueta, have a system of the Swedish type. Here I explore the lexical distribution of prosodic classes in Goizueta Basque and sketch a possible diachronic scenario to account for lexical correspondences between Goizueta and Coastal Bizkaian. I suggest, as a hypothesis, that, at the most recent common stage, the language had a prosodic system with three classes of words, two classes lexically specified for one of two types of tonal contour plus an unaccented class. The typological interest of this investigation is that it leads us to reconsider whether there is in fact some deep commonality underlying these seemingly so different types of pitch-accent system by establishing a possible diachronic link.
Lan honetan, Azpeitiko hizkeraren azentuaren ezaugarri akustikoak aztertzen ditugu. Singular/plural hitz pareak erabili ditugu bokal azentudunen eta azentugabeen arteko diferentzia akustikoak miatzeko. Emaitzek erakusten dute tonuak eta intentsitateak azentu-gunea adierazten dutela. Bereziki, aztertu dugun testuinguruan, silaba azentu-dunek tonu gorakada erakusten dute. Iraupena, alderantziz, ez da erabiltzen azentuaren ezaugarri esanguratsu bezala. Emaitza hauek beste euskal hizkera batzuen datuekin konparatzen ditugu eta iraupenaren azentuzko erabilerak bokalen galera gertakarietan izan dezakeen eragina kontsideratzen dugu.
Swedish stress and tone accent exhibits an interesting mixture of properties. I argue that the stress system is arranged in a largely morphological fashion, with clear similarities to dominance systems of Japanese, Basque and Greek, where there is a distinction between accented and unaccented stems, and where prefixes and, in particular, suffixes influence stress/accent placement. A major difference is that none of the lexical specifications for stress in Swedish is pre- or post-accenting, but rather post- and pretonic. Thus, no stress is assigned by affixes, but affixes impose adjacency conditions on stress placement in stems, or else the structure is either inhibited, or becomes noticeably marked. Beside the morphological specifications of stress information, there is a phonological default stress assignment, similar to what we find in Greek. The phonological default of Swedish applies blindly when prosodic specification is lacking at the right edge of prosodic words. An accentual default occurs also in Basque, but it applies at a phrasal level rather than at the word level.Beside stress, Swedish also exhibits a lexical tone (‘accent 2’, ‘grave’), which occurs only in primary stressed syllables, and which (in the analysis assumed here) is mostly assigned from posttonic suffixes to an immediately preceding primary stress. So-called ‘accent 1’ (acute) is lexically unmarked, but both tonal contours signal prominence in a similar fashion, that is, in a way that is independent of the lexical distinction as such.Stress and tonal accent both instantiate culminativity. Building on the theory of projecting words and phrases (Itô and Mester, 2007), I argue that stress instantiates culminativity within the minimal prosodic word, and tonal accent instantiates culminativity in the maximal prosodic word.