Documenting Blackfoot pitch excursion

Miyashita, Mizuki
Fish, Naatosi
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Blackfoot has been described as having a system of pitch accent on at least one syllable in a word (e.g., Frantz 2009). This study documents and describes pitch excursion or “accent curves” at the word level and enriches both Blackfoot linguistics and conservation. Recent studies strived to examine Blackfoot prosody. In phonetics, Van der Mark (2002) found that phonetic correlates of Blackfoot prominence are mainly F0 with intensity and suggested that Blackfoot should still be considered a pitch accent language. Conversely, by comparing it to other pitch accent languages, Stacy (2004) found no evidence to categorize Blackfoot as such and considered it instead to be a tone language. In phonology, Kaneko (1999) treated Blackfoot accent as quantity sensitive, interacting with other factors such as culminativity and alignment. And Weber (in press) claimed that Blackfoot accent is largely predictable with an assumption of iambic foot type. These studies represent the lack of consensus in understanding Blackfoot prosody. The common trait among these studies is that they focus only on accented or prominent syllables. The current investigation takes a holistic approach and finds that accent is realized on the syllable as a local pitch excursion. Pitch excursion is described using the recording of 35 words pronounced by a native Blackfoot speaker and generalized as follows: (1) Accent falls on first, second, or third syllable. (2) F0 of the initial release ranges from 80-90Hz; ending is approximately 60Hz when neither the initial release nor the ending is accented, showing downdrift. (3) The accented syllable marks prominence and its pitch is raised. (4) When the first syllable is long and accented, the pitch is raised toward the end. This study is significant for three reasons. First, it contributes to the field of linguistics as it provides support for impressionistic descriptions (Frantz 2009, Taylor 1969). It also raises the issue of finding an appropriate theoretical framework for a language involving pitch in prominence, especially when the language is under-researched. As the term pitch accent has been interpreted in various ways (Hyman 2009), the importance of conducting a detailed pitch examination is manifested in the present study. Second, this study benefits language conservation because the knowledge of how pitch excursion begins, continues, and ends is an essential part of sound pedagogy. Thus, third, the study bridges theory and application and is a response to one of the questions in the field of language documentation and conservation.
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