TRẦN Thúy Hiền


GIPSA Lab, Grenoble


 Perception and Production of Final Consonants: Some Thoughts on the Monosyllabic Status of Vietnamese


Vietnamese belongs to the Mon-Khmer language group in the Austroasiatic family and is traditionally described as an ‘isolating’ language, in which all the words are invariable (they don’t change in form) and each syllable generally has an independent meaning in isolation (Đoàn, 1999; Trương, 1970). Many authors describe Vietnamese as a monosyllabic language (see e.g. Nguyễn, 1989). However, others argue that Vietnamese words are not monosyllabic in all cases. A significant number of polysyllabic words can be found at the lexical level (51.74% of the 5000 most commonly used Vietnamese words) (Trần & Vallée, 2009). Addionally, Michaud (2004) remarks that the Vietnamese language is only monosyllabic at the phonological level, but partially polysyllabic at the lexical level. Simple words are monosyllabic and differ from compound words only in the number of syllables (Trương, 1970; Nguyễn, 1999). Vietnamese syllable structure is presented as C1(w)VC2 (the brackets indicating the optional constituent) (Đoàn, 1999). The language licenses only the eight segments /p t k m n ŋ j w/ in coda position, in which the three voiceless obstruents are unreleased [p˺ t˺ k˺]  (Cao, 1985; Đoàn, 1999; Kirby, 2011). As a result, C2 can be found at inter-word boundaries (CVC2#CVC) or, in disyllables, at intra-word boundaries (CVC2.C3VC).
I will present two experimental studies that were conducted in order to verify if there is any impact of boundary type (intra-word vs. inter-word) on the realization and perception of final consonants. The obtained results clearly show the existence of an effect of boundary type on final consonants. A word boundary is acoustically and perceptually different from a syllable boundary within a compound word. This finding leads us to question the monosyllabic status of Vietnamese. Significant differences of phonetic characteristics of final consonants in monosyllables and dissyllables could establish that Vietnamese is not a monosyllabic language and that dissyllables have their own prosodic status, rather than being simple juxtapositions.