Social Meaning in Prosodic Variability
An analysis of six characters from a Chinese television drama reveals socially meaningful patterns of variation in rhythm and final lengthening. Two measures of rhythm, the syllabic PVI and Varco∆S, reveal the three female characters to be more “stress-timed” than the three male characters; smoothing splines analysis, meanwhile, shows that the women do more lengthening of utterance-final syllables than the men. Interspeaker differences in rhythm among the men suggest that the social meaning of rhythmic variability may be linked to a cultural binary between “martial” and “refined” masculinities. This study opens up new avenues in the sociolinguistic study of rhythm and prosody, which has not seen widely reported gender differences in rhythm; as well it is the first study of final lengthening as a sociolinguistic variable in its own right.