University of Frankfurt


Discontinuous use of noun phrases in Vietnamese


Research on Vietnamese intonation has shown that there are effects of intonation in certain contexts for example in the presence of function words or while comparing different sentence modalities (cf. Ha and Grice 2010 and Do et al. 1998). However, I am not aware of any study that shows whether intonation effects are also present when it comes to word order change or nominal modification.
Since Vietnamese is an isolating language, word order plays an important role in identifying the function of a particular word. Yet, in some contexts word order may be flexible especially in the case of special information structural settings. Discontinuous noun phrases constitute a specific case of word order change in Vietnamese:

(1) Cam tôi mua hai trái
orange I buy two CLF
‘I buy two oranges.’

In (1) the head noun cam (orange) is moved away from the numeral classifier complex. This word order is contrasted to the canonical word order in (2) where the noun cam (orange) appears after the classifier.

(2) Tôi mua hai trái cam.
I buy two CLF orange
‘I buy two oranges.’

In order to find out whether there are intonation effects comparing continuous to discontinuous noun phrases, I recorded sentences containing both sorts of noun phrases. As for sentences with discontinuous noun phrases, the first part of a discontinuous noun phrase constituted a contrastive topic whereas the second part was a focus.
In a comparison between both sentence types, preliminary analysis show that there are effects on intonation. Vietnamese tones are rather flexible with regard to word order change compared to other tone languages as for example Cantonese (cf. Ding and Féry 2014). Furthermore, it seems that in this special word order setting, focus may be expressed with the help of intonation, which supports Jannedy’s (2007) analysis. Therefore, intonation effects are not only present with regard to sentence modality and function words as in Do et al. (1998) and Ha and Grice (2010), but they also play a role in nominal modification.
Since my first results only relied on “test recordings”, an experimental study containing recordings of 5 native speakers of Vietnamese is in process. In the study, contexts which elicit contrastive topic and focus are presented on a screen, afterwards the speaker is asked to read sentences containing discontinuous noun phrases. Likewise a general question eliciting wide focus is presented, and the speaker reads a sentence containing a continuous noun phrase. For the sake of simplicity only syllables containing the tones ngang, sắc and hỏi occur as parts of the target words. With the help of this method, the effect of sentence intonation and the role of information structure will be systematically studied on Vietnamese lexical tones.