Polyphonous and Meaningful: Pitch Variation in Stylistic Performances

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School of Arts & Sciences::Department of Linguistics::University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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Robert Xu

This paper examines the stylistic performances of character types in Beijing Mandarin, to understand how pitch functions as a meaningful sociolinguistic resource at different linguistic levels. Character types are abstractions of salient and performative social images of personhood enregistered with linguistic and embodied features. This study focuses on three such types - Angry Woman, Bureaucrat, and Childish Girl - in Beijing. 62 Beijing Mandarin speakers participated in an interactive game where they performed these types without scripts. They also participated in a focus group discussion for meta-discursive analysis. The results show that pitch operates as a complicated inventory of sociolinguistic features. At the intonation level, Angry Woman has significantly higher F0 register, while Bureaucrat has low F0 register and limited pitch variation. At the lexical tone level, speakers shift the registers of their lexical tone spaces across character types in correspondence to the types' intonational registers. But the tone space for each type has its own idiosyncratic range. In addition, speakers performed Childish Girl with full tones in place of neutral tones, and using a melodic template of L-H*L%, overriding the intonation and modifying the lexical tones. Based on these results, I propose that global F0 features at the melody and intonation levels evoke the signature qualia of these character types, and constrain the realization of lexical tones, especially their register. However, the pitch range and shape of individual tones can still be used to stylize specific aspects of the types. Pitch is an inventory of resources that has an order of accessibility in the construction of styles.

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