Jamaican Creole (JC) Intonation (Summer 1999 L795Q)
Shelome Gooden
The Ohio State University

Discussions here are superceded by my dissertation research, published works (e.g. Gooden, 2003a,b) and subsequent work.

1.0 Introduction:

This study embarked on preliminary investigations into the intonational system of Jamaican Creole (JC). At a later point, there will be a proposal for JC_Tobi annotation conventions. For now this report will outline the observations made thus far as well as highlight some of the problems which have to be sorted out in an effort to get an understanding of the intonation system. Several issues will be addressed some of which have been raised by Cassidy (1961, 1965) Lawton (1961). The paper is divided in sections as follows, section (2) discusses problems of describing stress in JC, and Section (3) looks at the issue of tonal events observed and where they originate. Section (4) discusses the types of accents/tones observed and edge final effects. In section (5) I discuss some issues concerning narrow focus constructions (6) gives a preliminary overview of what the JC_Tobi conventions might include and issues to be dealt with. The final section (7) lists a sample of utterances used in this paper.

2.0 Stress:

The first issue I will discuss is that of stress. By stress, I mean where a particular syllable is deemed stronger than other syllables. In standard American English for example, an unstressed vowel is centralized and reduced to schwa /« /. Cassidy and LePage (1980) claim that reduction to schwa does not normally occur in unstressed vowels. The basilectal variety (mostly Creole features) of JC which is described herein, tends not to have the schwa vowel or other centralized vowels. We might expect therefore that unstressed vowels exhibit some other type of phonetic process, such as reduction in length. If this is so, then a distinction could be made between a weak syllable and a strong syllable based on the relative lengths of the vowels or perhaps between being a diphthong and a monophthong.

e.g. S.E. S« lom                            roz« z
      JC. Sa luom 'Shelome'          ruozIz 'roses'

All the facts concerning stress in JC, even the question as to whether there is stress, are still unclear at this point and are in dire need of further research.

3.0 Tones:- Lexically vs. Intonationally based:

The observed pitch events (rises, falls) in the different F0 contours examined suggest that there are tones involved. Evidence needs to be provided for (a) where these tones come from, the lexicon as in Japanese, or from the intonation, as in English or Greek. Evidence also needs to be provided for where these tones are associated, to words, syllables or peaks. The problem posed by the JC data, is that the language has developed out of contact between two different types of languages. One (English) which is a stress-accent language in which the tones are assigned by the intonation and others (West African Bantu Languages) which have tones associated with every syllable. The question, which immediately arises, is what happened when these two systems came into contact. There are several possibilities (a) lexical tone abolished and intonational tones adopted (along with stress) (b) intonational tones rejected and lexical tones kept (c) a mixture of both systems (proportions then become a concern) (d) the language could develop patterns not seen in either of the contact languages. I propose that there is a mixture of these two systems evident in the JC data. It would appear that there are some lexical items which have lexically assigned tones while there are others (perhaps the majority) get tone from the intonation. Evidence of this is shown in (1a and b) below:


unu mada "Your (pl.) mother" [unumada 1] (Click to listen)


(1b) unu mada "Your (pl.) elderly fem. religious leader" [unumada2] (Click to listen)


In both cases the lowest part of the 'dip' in the F0 contour is in the middle of the final syllable da, approx. 140 Hz in each case. In (1a) the fall to the low is gradual, steadily dropping from 220 Hz (at the start of the utterance) to the low before it rises again to about 170 Hz. At the start of mada there is already a fall in the pitch. In (1b) on the other hand, there is no fall until the end of the first syllable in mada, the pitch then sharply falls to the L before rising again to about 170 Hz also. This gives the effect of (1a) having a shallower 'dip' as compared to (1b). We might characterise this high followed by low as a bitonal accent H +L though it is not clear where the (*) starred tone would be anchored. Also what type of tone is assigned to ma? If the ma in (1a) is a H can I also call the ma in (1b) a H though they are distinctly different? Alternately the ma in (1a) could be called a downstepped H (!H) (no solid claim being made since independent evidence needed for this) to capture the gradual decline in pitch from the start of the utterance. If this is done then can the tone on da be legitimately described as a L followed by a H tone since the L before is not much lower than the preceding H? Is the difference between them sufficient to call one a !H and the other a L? Note however that the characterisation of the contour on mada in (1a) as !H L H and that in (1b) as H L H captures the observation that (1b) involves a sharper fall in pitch than (a) on the syllable da. The rise observed at the end of these phrases will be discussed further below.

4.0  More Pitch Events:

4.1 Rises:-
The presence of rises on prominent syllables is also important. For example, it is crucial in distinguishing between the forms Mary Brown and Mary is brown shown in (2a and b) below.

(2a)[brown2_2]  (Click to listen)                                             (2b) [browna_2] (Click to listen)

Mieri Broun (two productions)                                       Mieri broun (two productions)
'Mary Brown'                                                              'Mary is brown'

In (2a), there is an initial rise-fall pattern on Mary and a fall on Brown. In (2b), the same rise-fall pattern is observed on Mary but brown also has a rise-fall pattern. How can these patterns be accounted for? One possibility is that there are two accents in (2b) whereas (2a) has only one on Mary. Both could have accents, just different types. The rise-fall pattern on Mary and on brown in (2b) may be characterised as a H+L bitonal accent. As such the contour in (2a) would have a H+L followed by a L while that in (2b) would have a H+L followed by another H+L. Again I am not sure where the starred tones should be placed; with the H or the L i.e. H*+L or a H+ L* (H+L)*. Note that each of these constitutes a single phrase. There is no perceptible break/pause between Mary and Brown in either case; the break in the F0 contour can be attributed to the obstruent /b/. We see also that the second H in (2b) is 'downstepped' relative to the first so that it might me more appropriately described as a (!H+L)* bitonal accent. Other (stronger) evidence is needed to support positing a (!H+L)* as different from a (H+L)*. At the moment the proposed (!H+L)* accent crucially differentiates Brown as (a) a part of an NP or (b) an adjective.

Note also that Lawton's characterization (as given below) is not borne out by these data.

Lawton (1961):

Mie ri broun Mary is brown (2b)

Mie ri Broun Mary Brown (2a)

In both cases a HL pattern is predicted for brown and this is not seen. It is only (2b), which has this HL pattern. Mary in (2a) is predicted to have a HLL pattern but the pattern shown can be viewed as simply a HL.

4.2  Edge Tones:

For several types of utterances there is a basic pattern which appears to be consistent. This pattern is found in (a) Yes-No questions which have a rise at the end (b) plain declaratives which have a fall at the end (c) exclamatory statements which have a rise-fall pattern at the end. The general patterns are thus schematized below, other patterns will be discussed further below.

For all of the patterns described above, the utterances examined stayed steady (between 200-220 Hz) until the end of phrase. The critical difference is how the phrase ended. We might characterise these differences as (a) a high boundary tone, H% and (b) a low boundary tone, L%. the difference between (b) and (c) might be captured by a H+L bitonal accent preceding the L%.

The following examples illustrate.

(3a) [Yn1] (Click to listen)

A fi Mieri? Is it Mary's?

(3b) [Sl2] (Click to listen)

Wan yung gyal A young girl.

(3c)[Sl8] (Click to listen)

Wan gyal nyam wan leman A girl eats a lemon.

As seen the utterances in both cases end with a L edge tone. Notice however that there is a slight 'upturn' observable at the end. The importance of this will be discussed just below.

(3d) [Assur1b] (Click to listen)

Di maata a fi mi The mortar is mine!

Ignoring the pitch perturbation from the /t/ in maata and the /f/ in fi. This contour can be seen as one which has a somewhat gradually rise, starting at the end of maa in maata and culminating in a peak on mi, the highest point of which in on the /m/ so that it falls in the /i/. The rise-fall pattern then lasts over the duration of the syllable, though the rise begins in the vowel of fi. We might characterise this as a L+H tone followed by a L%. The low boundary tone being responsible for pulling down the pitch at the end.

4.3  A wH% tone ?:

A different boundary is predicted by Cassidy (1961), to occur at the end of declaratives. These he says end in a rise which does not go as high the question rise. We might call this a weak H% (wH% ). The data discussed above does show a slight upturn in the F0 contour in the declaratives. With reference to the diagrams in (1a) and (1b) above, the slight rise at the end might in this light be accounted for by the presence of the wH%, the preceding tone being !H+L and H+L for (1a) and (1b) respectively. However, it remains to be seen whether these are perceptually salient. Note that Cassidy's claim that this contour might be perceived as a question by speakers of English was not borne out per the reactions of English speakers in this class. As a result, there is, as yet, no strong evidence for the presence of a wH% in contrast to a H% or a L%. Perception tests which manipulate the extent/absence of the rise/upturn at these edges, might help to come to a more complete description of the patterns observed.

Other types of patterns observed were in Wh-questions and long utterances with a list-type characteristic. There was also a few declaratives which showed a different pattern from those described above. Examples are shown below

(4a) [Pt 3] (Click to listen)

Weh yu nyam              Where do you eat?

(4b) [Pt. 4] (Click to listen)

Yu nyam ya yu liv ya yu du evriting ya  You eat here you live here you do everything here.

Compare this to the long utterance in (3c). Here there is some type of 'downtrend' in the realization of the Hs (on first ya, on second ya and third on ri In addition, there a perceptible breaks, so that these phrases might be seen as having 3 phrases. More data of this kind are needed so that the precise nature of these phrases can be known. Are they intermediate phrases? What type of tonal events should be expected to mark this edge as distinct from an intonational phrase which we saw had a H% (perhaps a wH%) or a L%?

(4c) [Other 1] (Click to listen)

Mi waa wiiwi          I want to urinate.

(4d) [Other 2] (Click to listen)

Unu mus numba unu yam     You (pl) must number your yams.

(4e) [Sl3] (Click to listen)

Wan lii yung gyal A little young girl.

(4f) [Sl5] (Click to listen)

Wan gyal nyam i A girl eats/ate it.

The general pattern exhibited is a rise-fall-rise-fall pattern. The effect is a kind of 'sagging' of the F0 contour. The question which arises is what accounts for this. Note that this is similar to the shape of the F0 contour in (2b) Mary is brown, except that the duration of the L is much longer. AS before these utterances are perceived as a single phrase so that the changes in pitch observed takes place within one phrase. How then are these different from the other declaratives seen before? In these, the small upturn (except 4f) at the end of the utterance is also seen.

5.0  Focus (narrow) constructions:

This more often involves syntactic reorganization in which the focused constituent in singled out and repeated utterance initially preceded by (a). It is my impression that prosodic focus without syntactic reorganization is possible at other levels of the Creole continuum not at the basilectal level. Forcing a narrow focus reading via intonation would involve some sort of 'code switching'.

The focused constituent is in bold.

e.g. A numba unu mus numba unu yam  It is number that you must your number yams( not eat them)

A unu mus numba unu yam     It is you (pl) who must number your yams.

A yam unu mus numba       It is yams you must number (not peas)

6.0  Preliminaries of the types of Tiers Needed:

          H% Typically appears in Yes-No questions
          L% Typically appears in plain declarative exclamatory type, WH-questions, and emphatic utterances.

As an analysis of JC intonation becomes clearer, more tones can be added.


Sample list of utterances used for this project

        Di mango a fi yu          The mango is yours
        A fi fu (di) mango        The mango is really yours
        Di mango a fi yu?         Is the mango yours?
        A fi fu (di) mango?       Is the mango really yours?
        Di mango a fi yu!         The mango is yours!
        A fi yu (di) mango!      The mango is really yours!
        Di mango a fi Mieri     The mango is Mary's.
        A fi Mieri (di) mango   The mango is really Mary's.
        Di mango a fi Mieri?    Is the mango Mary's?
        A fi Mieri (di) mango?  Is the mango really Mary's?
        Di mango a fi Mieri!    The mango is Mary's!
        A fi Mieri (di) mango! The mango is really Mary's!
        Di mango dem a fi Mieri dem. The mangoes are for Mary and company.
        A fi Mieri dem mango dem.     The mangoes are really for Mary and company.
        Di mango dem a fi Mieri dem? Are the mangoes for Mary and company?
        A fi Mieri dem mango dem?    Are the mangoes really for Mary and company?
        Di mango dem a fi Mieri dem! The mangoes are for Mary and company!
        A fi Mieri dem mango dem!    The mangoes are really for Mary and company!
        Di maaga uman dem a fi aal a unu. The skinny women are for all of you .

Short to long utterances:

wan gyal                                            A girl
wan yung gyal                                    A young girl
wan lii yung gyal                                 A little young girl
wan gyal                                            A girl
wan gyal nyam i                                 A girl eats/ate it
wan gyal nyam wan banana                A girl eats a banana
wan gyal nyam wan laim                     A girl eats a lime
wan gyal nyam wan leman                  A girl eats a lemon
Oliva                                                 Oliver
Mi lov ar                                           I love her.

Yes/No Questions:

A fi Mieri?                                       Is it for Mary?
A fi Mieri mango?                            Is it Mary's mango?
A fi Mieri mango dem?                    Are they Mary's mangoes?
A fi Mieri dem mango?                    Is it Mary's (and her companions) mango?
A fi Mieri dem mango dem?            Are they mary's (and her companions) mangoes?

Other utterances:

Mi waan wiiwi                                   I want to urinate
Unu mus numba unu yam                   You (pl.) must number your yams
De(m) muol so(m) yam (h)ill.              They mounded earth around some yam hills.


Coming Soon!!