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Review of  Aspects of Zaiwa Prosody: An Autosegmental Account

Reviewer: Jakob Dempsey
Book Title: Aspects of Zaiwa Prosody: An Autosegmental Account
Book Author: Mark W Wannemacher
Publisher: SIL International Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Subject Language(s): Zaiwa
Book Announcement: 10.1148

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Wannemacher, Mark W. 1998 Aspects of Zaiwa Prosody: an
Autosegmental Account. Summer Institute of Linguistics/University of
Texas at Arlington, viii,160 pp. $29 International Academic
Bookstore (SIL) 972-708-7404 /

reviewed by Jakob Dempsey, Yuan-ze University

Modern linguistics is a collection of many disciplines, but it
still owes much to its origins in comparative and descriptive
studies centered on the great Indo-European language-family. The
only other language-group of comparable size, both in number of
speakers and certainly in number of languages, is the Sino-Tibetan
group, but modern linguistic studies are still in the beginning
stages for many of the hundreds of languages in this group. Zaiwa is
a rather typical representative of the Tibeto-Burman(TB) super-
group, belonging within the relatively well-studied Yipo-Burmic
group to the Northern Burmish sub-group, thus with close affinities
to Burmese. Although Zaiwa is the best-documented among the known
members of its sub-group (including Maru [=Longwo/Langsu], Bola,
Letsi and the Achang dialects), Wannemacher's volume is its first
detailed phonological study. Of added interest to many readers is
the autosegmental analysis and feature-geometry which W.
(Wannemacher) uses to explain the data he has gathered.

The book starts with an introduction to Tibeto- Burman languages
and Zaiwa's position in that large group, with family-tree diagrams
from 4 different authorities; I find it strange that our author
relies most on the oldest version (Shafer) constructed with the
least data available. Among the general features of TB languages, he
mentions phonemic tones and voice quality contrast, "two
phonological traits that apparently developed independently." I wish
he had explained this more, since I have often seen a close
relationship between the two in both the Sinitic and TB side of
Sino-Tibetan. After an outline of W's methodology and focus of the
research in the following chapters, we come to chapter 2, devoted to
previous studies of Zaiwa phonology. Syllable structure, segment
inventory, tones, voice-quality and the distributions of all the
above are compared from Burling 1967, Xu and Xu 1984, Yabu 1988 and
Dai Qing-xia 1988, 1990. Since W's material, like Yabu's, is based
on speakers from Burma, I think it would have been advisable to also
consult Yabu's much larger dictionary of Zaiwa (1982). Also, a great
deal of comparative material, not altogether irrelevant to W's
tasks, can be found in the massive Huang 1992. This chapter
naturally includes some discussion about choices made by the various
researchers on how to phonemicise Zaiwa's sounds and includes some
interesting details on allophonic variants. W. distinguishes himself
from some earlier analysts by positing a single derived tone for
checked syllables (stop-final) with tone height depending on
features of the initial consonant and voice quality. He treats the
latter as a suprasegmental feature, which is quite a point of
contention among analysts. The issue here is a marked type of voice
quality, sometimes described as "creaky" or "tense", described in
chapter 3 onward as [+stiff vocal folds], which has been attributed
to "glottalised initials" (Burling) or simply to the presence of a
glottalised/tense vowel (others). In a more up-to-date analysis, W.
assigns the tense voice quality to the initial consonant as an
autosegment which spreads to the following vowel. As more of a
comparative/historical linguist, the question for this reviewer
remains, "Where did this marked feature come from?" The answer seems
to be: not from "glottalised initials" which was just an early
theory of Burling's with little evidence to back it up, but from
earlier clusters of /s/ + stop that are no longer acceptable in the
syllabic canon. A similar development is confirmed by older
spellings of "s+C" in syllables that now start with such "tense"
stops in Korean. In his well-ordered "Allophonic statements" tables
(p.142-4), we can see many examples of this three-way distinction
with stop-initial words. In generalised symbols, we have, by W's
analysis: ga - kha - gA , representing respectively non-aspirated
and aspirated with modal (unmarked) voicing, and tense voicing
(always unaspirated). The apparently voiced stops are also favored
for syllable-final position, thus: gag - khag -gAg . It may appear
petty to quarrel about symbols used, but this is after all an
important part of phonemic analysis as well as the very shape of the
language as we see it presented to the world, so I offer here some
suggestions: Looking at the trio ga - kha - gA (capital letter =
tense voicing; W. uses a tiny "+" appended under the affected
vowel), it is obvious that the aspiration-mark of the second member
is non-contrastive. Since the "native script" for Zaiwa (such as
seen in its large Chinese-to-Zaiwa dictionary) represents W's "kha"
by "ka" , let us do that here. I do not quarrel with the /g/ itself;
although the initial in /ga/ is only marginally voiced, it has
served this contrastive role in many analyses, including Mandarin
Chinese's Pinyin, where the initials are even less voiced. The
Chinese and Japanese analysts listed above would disagree, using ka
- kha - kA instead. As for the tense-voiced member, the choice is to
associate the extra marked feature with g- or with k- . W. chose
the former, and we will examine his reasoning when discussing
chapter five. I would suggest: ga - ka - xka , where the /x/ is not
so vital, simply being my historical bias in using a segment ( = W's
/h/ ) to mark what W. rightly calls a suprasegmental feature in
present-day Zaiwa. His use of /-g/ etc. for final stops is less
pardonable since this gives us forms which are typolo- gically quite
out of place in East Asia; there is not the least bit of voicing in
final position, so why not use the traditional -k etc. since
everybody knows this does not imply any aspiration finally?

Chapter 3 "Phonological Prerequisites to the Analysis and
Representation of Zaiwa Phonology" includes brief but well-focused
discussions of autosegmental phonology, feature geometry and
underspecification theory, with a focus on the laryngeal node as
well as a detailed look at the anatomy of the larynx and its
relationship to the two most important suprasegmentals in Zaiwa:
contrastive pitch and voice quality. Drawing on the work of previous
TB scholars as well as Laver and Ladefoged, W. brings out such
points as: "...Zaiwa checked syllables in which the glottal
constriction of the final stop and the [+/- spread vf ] and [+/-
const vf ] features of the initial consonant work together to
determine tone," and that creaky voice [+ const vf ] [- stiff vf ]
has the lowest tone, with modal voiced segments [- const vf ] [-
stiff vf ] tone is determined by surrounding segments and
independent laryngeal controls, and tense voice segments [+ stiff vf
] have a tendency toward higher tone.

Chapter 4 "An Autosegmental Framework for the Analysis and
Representation of Tone and Voice Quality in Zaiwa" early on points
out that "In Zaiwa unchecked syllables, tone is assigned by
associating lexically specified tone from an autosegmental tier to a
TBU as expected. In checked syllables, however, tone is derived by
spreading previously associated glottal features to the vowel from
the surrounding segments." Three lexical tones (high-falling, high-
mid level, mid-low falling) are contrastive in non-checked syllables
irrespective of initial voicing and voice quality, but tone in
checked syllables is derived and predictable from initial (C1)
voicing and [+/- stiff vf ]. The laryngeal feature systems of Halle
and Stevens, Duanmu, Ladefoged and Yip are compared, whereupon W.
suggests an analysis using [ +/- spread ], [+/- stiff ], [+/- const
], and [+/- voice ] which can be simplified through
underspecification. There follow a number of feature-geometry
diagrams which were quite helpful to a reader like me with a better
background in Zaiwa than in modern theory.

Chapter 5, "Aspects of Zaiwa Segmental Phonology", opens with a
list of five different phonological levels (paragraph, breath-group,
word, syllable, phoneme) each with its own features; the syllable is
taken as the basic frame of reference. Nuclear words may be from 1
to 4 syllables, but verbs are as a rule monosyllabic (a common
feature in TB), whereas nouns are commonly of either one or two
syllables. Syllable structure is: C1(C2)V(X) [numerals should be
subscripts] where X is optional vowel length or the second member of
a diphthong or a final consonant. Oddly, I feel, W. considers the
initial consonant to be obligatory, there- fore he must write a non-
contrastive glottal-stop before all otherwise initial vowels. His
reasons (p.68-69) as I understand them are: 1) /?/ (glottal stop) is
already a recognised segment (it can occupy the X-position) , 2) the
sound [?] can be heard before syllable-initial V in cases such as
V(C) and CV-V , 3) "glottal stop patterns with other stops syllable
finally and is contrastive with its absence syllable finally," but
nothing in any of these three statements convinces this reviewer
that the [?] heard initially is therefore a phoneme. W. further
argues that excluding /?/ initially would increase the number of
syllable-types, thereby making analysis more complex. Yet on the
same page, in a discussion of unstressed final syllables, he has to
add a special extra rule to account for cases where the syllable
begins with his /?/. So, his (I feel) superfluous initial /?/ can
itself "make the analysis more complex", and in any case a
linguist usually hopes that the transcription he/she has devised
might by worthy of use by many other people, who in this case would
all have to add this extra letter whether they had any interest in
W's analyses or not.

That said, we move on to note W's use of a moraic approach to
syllable structure. W. connects stress with heavy syllables ( -VV or
-VC) and nonstress with light syllables (-V), thus a Zaiwa syllable
has at most two moras. The first mora must be of equal or greater
sonority than the second. W. presents some insights gained from the
traditional Chinese method of syllable-analysis, and then discusses
reduced syllables. In the next section on consonants, W. first
states that it is not obvious whether to assign the tense-voice-
associated initial stops to his "voiced plosive" or to his "voicless
aspirated plosive" category, but then decides on the voiced series,
but with reasons I find both curious and inadequate. Curious is that
he first, rather inexplicitly, decides that tense voicing is an
inherent quality of such syllables, with no need to search for any
explanation of how this marked suprasegmental came about; W. earlier
(p.33) quoted other scholars voicing this opinion (although Burling
calls it in origin "preglottalised" rather than "tense") without
really taking a stance, but here he has. This marked voice quality
then would influence the underlyingly voiced initial and render it
audibly voiceless. He then refers to some causative/non-causative
verbal pairs such as / bup / 'rotten' vs. / bUp / 'make rot' to
demonstrate that the causative member is basically a derivative of
the other voiced-initial member. He has found no evidence of such
variance with the voiceless aspirated series, but he may have
overlooked a most pertinent article (Dai 1981) which specifically
discusses causative verbs in Zaiwa. Dai divides the mechanisms into
two major categories, analytical (adding the prefix / lO? / ) and
inflexional . The latter he divides into three types: ( non-caus.
vs. caus., using W's notation): a) ga - gA , na - nA [ g = any
voiced stop, n = any resonant] b) ga - Kha c) special. The last
type involves changes such as wun (carry on the back) - hun (caus.)
; the former is from *run, the latter from *hrun (=*xrun), cf.
Dempsey 1995 p.284. This third type is the least common, and the
first type is the most comon. Now, in other languages within the
"Zaiwa-group", e.g. Maru, we see quite similar mechanisms, but in
the other North Burmish sub-type, Achang, and in Brumese, we see
something very interesting: for the Zaiwa type ga - gA we often
see ga - kha (e.g. 'ascend, fill, fry, adhere, fear) , and for the
Zaiwa type na - nA we often see na - hna (e.g. red, be at, roll,
weep, release, sink). If we assume the Zaiwa tense syllable earlier
had an / s / prefix, since s + C is well-known as a means for
deaspirating C, it would hardly do to maintain that *sC led to Ch
(aspirated C). For the resonant initials, it looks very simple: *sna
> hna ( > nA ). For the stops, it is not clear whether the tense
type in Zaiwa corresponding to the aspirated type in Achang/Burmese
is due to an extra /s-/ having been added on to an already causative
aspirated type, or simply added to devoice the original voiced non-
causative. The former possibility is strengthened by looking at some
cognate sets in North Burmish, which show the same relationship,
tense voicing in Zaiwa but aspiration in another closely related
language. For example, 'star' has tense voicing in Zaiwa, Maru, Bola
and Letsi, but aspiration in Achang. 'Gall-bladder', 'cheek', 'frog'
and 'mosquito' are other examples. In these cases, we can hardly
suppose that the aspirated forms in Achang (and sometimes Burmese)
are some type of morphologicall alteration like we saw with the
causative verbs. It is simpler to assume that the Zaiwa-group forms
show evidence of having added the typical TB body-parts /s-/ prefix
or the common /s-/ animal prefix, cf. Benedict 1972 p.106. 'Frog'
for example shows random aspiration throughout the Yipo-Burmic
super-group; some languages kept or added the /s-/, some didn't. W.
also argues a little for associating tenseness with the voiceless
aspirated series, but with little force too since the correspon-
dences in Hani/Akha he alludes to are allophonic. He concludes "the
deaspiration of a not supported by the feature geometry
proposed for Zaiwa" in which aspirated consonants are [ +spread vf
], incompatible with tense voice's [ -spread vf ] , but the role of
*s- is unclear to me, because on p.86 he lumps voiceless fricatives
in with voiceless aspirates as both being [ +spread vf ] but in his
important chart on p. 51 and in his appendix the fricatives /s/ and
/$/ (English "sh") are listed as [ -spread vf ]. I would conclude
the same way I did for final stops: if initial tense stops sound
voiceless, why not write them voiceless?

Chapter 6 "Zaiwa Suprasegmental Phonology" starts with details
about tonal allo- phony, with an interesting distinction between
nonproductive vs. productive reduced syllables, the former
completely losing their underlying tone. The section on tone sandhi,
complete with CECIL tracings, is one of the most thorough I have
seen for a TB language. W. then reviews arguments for considering
the high and low checked-syllables as basically one or two tone
types; he opts for the former, but it is a pity he did not give some
examples of the evidence from Maru and Lashi (= Letsi) which is
involved. Sections on stress vs. tone and voice quality conclude the

The book has lengthy appendices which list further details of
Zaiwa's phonological processes as well as distinctive feature
charts, and references. One last detail bothers me: There are some
central vowels (mid or close-mid in the Chinese sources, although W.
hears one of them as higher) in Zaiwa which Chinese sources consider
as allophones of /e/ and /i/ in various environments; W. does not
hear the variant for /e/, thus /se/ (level-tone) 'know' is a front
vowel for him, but a central vowel in the Chinese sources. Be that
as it may, W. argues that the higher central vowel should be an
allophone of /u/, not of /i/. I disagree with both: the Chinese
publications seem to be based on analogous allophony in Jingpo, and
W. takes his inspiration from Matisoff's analysis of Lahu. I instead
look at cognates: 'Shoot', for example, which W. writes /bug/ and
Xu&Xu write /pik/, I write as /bek/, because: a) the cognates in
Zaiwa-group languages all have mid or low central vowels, and
closely related Nusu has /beq/. No TB cognate I know of has /u/
here. b) the two different central vowels of the Chinese sources
are, according to my investigations, actually in complementary
distribution, so, since they are both described as mid, and since
cognates frequently have /e,a,@/ (@ as in RP "love"), the mid vowel
/e/ is a sensible home for them. c) final /-k/ (W's -g) is
associated with front vowels in Zaiwa; *-k with back vowels has
changed to a glottal stop.

Benedict, Paul K. 1972. Sino-Tibetan: a conspectus. Cambridge:
University Press.

Burling, Robbins. 1967. Proto-Lolo Burmese. International Journal of
American Linguistics 33(2):part 2. Bloomington: Indiana

Dai, Qing-xia. 1981. "Zai-wa-yu shi-dong fan-chou di xing-tai bian-
hua" (Morphological changes in the Zaiwa causative-verb category),
in Min-zu yu-wen 1981.4:36-41.

---------- 1986. Zaiwa-yu (the Atsi language). Zhong-guo da-bai-ke
quan-shu: Min-zu. (Magna Encyclopedia Sinica: Ethnology Volume).

- -------- 1993. A genetic classification for Tibeto-Burman
languages in China. in: Recent contributions to Tibeto-Burman
studies. Beijing: CUN Press.

Dempsey, Jakob. 1995. A reconsideration of some phonological issues
involved in reconstructing Sino-Tibetan numerals. diss.,
U.Washington, Seattle.

Huang, Bufan (ed.). 1992. Zang-mian yu-zu yu-yan ci-hui ( a Tibeto-
Burman Lexicon). Beijing: Zhong-yang min-zu xue-yuan.

Xu Xi-jian & Xu Gui-zhen. 1984. Jing-po-zu yu-yan jian-zhi (Zai-wa
yu). (Outline of the Zaiwa language of the Kachin nationality).
Outline of China's Minority Language Series. Beijing:
Nationalities Publishing House.

Yabu, Shiro. 1982. A Classified dictionary of the Atsi or Zaiwa
language (Sadon dialect) with Atsi, Japanese and English indexes.
Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia
and Africa, Gaikokugo Daigaku.

- -------- 1988. A preliminary report on the study of the Maru,
Lashi and Atsi languages of Burma. In Yoshiaki Ishizawa (ed.),
Historical and cultural studies in Burma, 65-132. Tokyo: Institute
of Asian Studies, Sophia University.

Jakob Dempsey was a medical technologist for many years, but now is
Assistant Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at Yuan-
ze University in Taiwan, where he specializes in introduction to
phonology and German courses. His focus of research is Old Chinese
phonological reconstruction and Tibeto-Burman compar- ative and
historical phonology, with occasional forays into Germanics and
other Indo-European groups. He lived for three years in Afghanistan
and Korea and has an M.A. in Tibetan, Ph.D. in Asian Linguistics
(both U.Washington). He is currently finishing a paper on the
phonological history of the North Burmish group.


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