Today I took the very long, arduous 5 minute walk to Waseda campus, and heard five talks from phoneticists in and around Tokyo. I used to feel pretty nervous about going to these kinds of meetings, but now that I know more people, it’s a lot easier to just relax and focus on the talks. In the interest of keeping it fresh in my head, here are my notes from the meeting. Some of these topics are a little outside my own fields of interest, so I apologize in advance if I completely misunderstood something!
First up was Hideyuki Kawasuzaki (河須崎英之) from Waseda University Academic Solutions Corporation, with a talk titled “A study of the verb accent of Korean in China” 「中国朝鮮語話者の動詞アクセント研究」. He looked at the pitch accent features of a dialect of Korean that is spoken in a Chinese town across the border from North Korea. Unlike Seoul Korean, they apparently have pitch accent patterns that differentiate words. I honestly don’t know enough about Korean to get much from the talk, but I was impressed with the detailed field work.
Next came a talk by a Korean researcher, Hi-Gyung Byun (邊 姫京), from Akita International University, titled “Sound change in VOT values of Korean stops and an acoustic space by VOT and f0” 「韓国語閉鎖音のVOT値変化とVOT/f0による生成のカテゴリー域」. She found that Korean plain, tense and aspirated consonants are made very differently by older and younger generations, as well as by men and women. Although voice onset time is partly used to differentiate the consonants, and moreso by older speakers, pitch changes are also used, and younger people use pitch as a primary signal. It seems that Seoul Korean is undergoing a shift—perhaps in the direction of developing pitch accent?
I have to admit that I know very little about Korean, other than the really basic stuff that any phonetics student in Asia ought to know. I know how to say “I’m an American”, “Nice to meet you”, “Thank you”, and “Can I have a beer please”, and that’s about it. So I spent most of the first two talks playing catch-up and learning some of the basic terminology for talking about Korean—平音、農音、激音 etc.
Rika Aoki (青木理香) of Saitama University presented “Perception of English plosives by Chinese-Japanese bilinguals”「日中バイリンガルによる英語破裂音の知覚」, which explored how Chinese immigrant children in Japan perceive the voice/voiceless distinction in English. Her subjects had lived in China until the age of 15, but used Japanese more often in daily life. One might expect them to identify voice distinctions the way Japanese monolinguals do, since Japanese voice contrast has almost the same timing as English. She found, however, that their perceptions were more similar to Chinese monolinguals. The study had a few flaws in its paradigm, and she got quite a lot of comments to that effect. Why not look at Japanese immigrants to China for comparison? Wouldn’t they already have exposure to English through school? Do these students really count as “bilingual”?* It must have been a stressful experience for her, but I really think the comments were offered in a constructive spirit. That’s one of the nice things about this field, really. Phoneticists don’t seem to tear each other up too badly, at least compared to the horror stories I’ve heard from other fields.
Takuya Kimura (木村 琢也) of Seisen and Sophia presented “Categorical perception of Spanish /y/ by native speakers of Japanese and subjective evaluation of /y/ with “Japanese accent” by native speakers of Spanish” 「スペイン語 /y/ の日本語母語話者による範疇的知覚および「日本語なまり」のある /y/ に対するスペイン語母語話者の主観評価」. He had Japanese speakers listen to Spanish /y/ sounds, like in paella, yo, aller, etc., and write down the sound they heard using Japanese writing (katakana). It turns out that Japanese listeners hear Spanish /y/ as ‘ya’, ‘zya’, and even ‘gya’ in some situations. He also recorded himself reading Spanish words, using different allophones for /y/, and asked Spanish speakers to judge which pronunciations sounded the most native-like. Apparently it doesn’t matter too much which sound the Japanese speaker makes, because Spaniards will hear them all as a /y/—indicating that maybe there’s not much need to be too strict with Japanese students’ pronunciation of that sound.
Prof. Kimura is doing his doctoral research in the same lab as me, and working on a language that I used to be able to speak fairly well, so I was really interested in his talk. He’s also quite a natural and pleasant speaker to listen to.
Finally, Takashi Otake (大竹孝司) of E-Listening Laboratory presented “Reconsideration of speech rhythm” 「言葉のリズムの再考」. He gave an overview of the history of thought on speech rhythm, from the ancient greeks, to vulgar latin, and old Japanese. His core thesis, I think, is that most of the writing on rhythm before Trubetskoy and modern linguistics saw rhythm as a way of organizing speech. Rather than a fundamental property, it was seen as a set of mental categories imposed on speech, ordering syllables into aesthetically pleasing and memorable chunks with a repetitive pattern.
This is the second time I’ve heard this talk. To be honest, I don’t disagree with him at all, but my reaction was sort of, “yes, and?” Poetry does some things differently and looks at language differently from how we examine it in phonetics and phonology. I don’t see that as a particularly shocking statement, and I don’t see how the knowledge of that fact is meant to influence the study of prosody today. Perspective on the past is good, but it seems like a weird topic for a conference talk. It felt more like a lecture for introducing prosody to undergraduates. Still, I respect the effort and the intent. Past perspectives on language can give us different insights, and certainly the study of prosody could stand to have some input from less conventional points of view.
* I think they do, but I use the term pretty broadly. Her subjects were most definitely ‘sequential bilinguals’ as well as ‘adult bilinguals’, though, so they really don’t fit what most people think of when they hear the word ‘bilingual’.