Eh Nhotkhampeuy

Centre for Research in Computational Linguistics




Paul Sidwell

Centre for Research in Computational Linguistics




Iambic speech rhythm - Nyaheun phonology and syntax


Nyaheun is a small West Bahnaric language spoken by a couple of thousand people on the Boloven Plateau, in the southern Lao PDR. The remarkable feature of Nyaheun is that it has restructured all previously sesquisyllabic words into monosyllables. E.g. compare:























How does this change relate to the characteristic rising/iambic phrasal rhythm? Does the shift to monosyllables correlate with a general shift away from rising rhythm?

We have reviewed recordings of Nyaheun speakers we made during 2005-06, and we have found a distinctive intonation pattern: the unmarked intonation appears to involve two distinct peaks in the pitch contour, with a lower peak followed by a higher peak. If the intonation group is quite long, it tends to begin with a staccato rhythm before the double peak. Syntactic factors are also involved, and we will discuss these (time permitting).

Our preliminary conclusion is that iambic rhythm is alive and well in Nyaheun, so we must look for another explanation for the Nyaheun restructuring.