Syllable isochrony and the prosodic features of stop syllables in Cantonese

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Cantonese is a syllable-timed language: that is, the syllable is the isochronous unit of speech. However, in Cantonese, there is a type of closed syllable with the stop codas [-p], [-t], or [-k] (i.e. syllables with the so called “entering-tones”) which sound much shorter than other syllables. On the surface, the shorter duration of stop syllables and the general prosodic feature of syllable-isochrony seem to conflict. This study conducted acoustic investigations of stop syllables in Cantonese in different contexts (i.e. in isolated form, in disyllabic words, and in disyllabic words located at the beginning, middle, and final positions of sentences). The results showed that stop syllables alone are shorter than non-stop syllables in various contexts. However, in disyllabic words or in sentences, there is a supplementary lengthening effect immediately after the stop syllables: there is more acoustic blank, and in some circumstances the initial of the following syllable is lengthened. Therefore, we propose that the phonetic realization of syllable isochrony is beyond the syllable itself in Cantonese. The results and discussions of this study may also shed light on the problem of the disappearance of “entering tones” from various Chinese dialects. Copyright © 2022 ILAS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-46
JournalLanguage and Linguistics
Issue number1
Early online dateDec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


Zhang, L. (2022). Syllable isochrony and the prosodic features of stop syllables in Cantonese. Language and Linguistics, 23(1), 20-46. doi: 10.1075/lali.00098.zha


  • Syllable isochrony
  • Stop syllable
  • Entering tone
  • Prosodic feature
  • Cantonese


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