A Model for Rhythmicity in Spoken Cantonese

Ivan Chow, Steven Brown, Matthew Poon, Kyle Weishaar, The University of Western Ontario

Although Cantonese lacks stress at the word level, rhythmic patterns are apparent at the sentence level. In order to develop an understanding of this phenomenon, we took a sentence and manipulated the syllabic content of several of its target words in order to observe the consequences for rhythmic structure. Overall, we found that sentence rhythms conformed to simple musical meters. In addition, we found that syllabic durations could become compressed according to small-integer ratios, such as duplets and triplets. Finally, we observed a tendency for sentences to end on a strong beat, a mechanism that we call the Downbeat Rule.