My research bears on phonetics and phonology, within the
broader perspective of linguistic typology. (About typology, see, e.g.,
the presentation proposed by Alexandre
François in his colourful web pages.) I endeavour
to study phonetic/phonological facts within the context
of the linguistic system as a whole. Proposals for phonological
modelling and typological synthesis rest on detailed case studies.
The two main components of my research are (i) prosodic typology
(tones, accents and intonation), and (ii) the
experimental, pluriparametric study of lexical tones and intonation in
Southeast Asian languages (Naxi, Vietnamese,
The aim of the experimental study of the tones of Southeast Asian
languages is to gain further insights into the diversity of their
correlates (especially in terms of
voice quality, i.e. the mode of vibration of the vocal folds).
Their synchronic study opens into phonological modelling; it can also
shed light on diachrony (the evolution of sound systems).
The list presented below is organized by topics.
I. Prosody, prosodic typology, phonological modeling of tones and intonation
A book chapter that opens general perspectives for prosodic modelling, on the basis of French data:
Jacqueline Vaissière & Alexis Michaud (2006), " Prosodic constituents in French: a data-driven approach ", in Prosody and syntax, ed. by I. Fónagy, Y. Kawaguchi & T. Moriguchi, Amsterdam, John Benjamins, coll. " Usage-based linguistic informatics ", pp. 47-64. [To download a preprint version, click on PDF image; to get to the publishers' website, click here.]
Abstract : This paper aims (i) to summarise essential facts about intonational phrasing ("syntactic intonation") in French, as seen within the broader picture of French prosody, (ii) to provide a cross-linguistic perspective, by bringing out characteristics which sharply distinguish French from English, and drawing their implications for the thorny issue of cross-linguistic prosodic description, which arguably holds the key to substantial progress in our understanding of prosody. The essentials of a superpositional model of intonation for French are briefly set out.
Conference articles about current issues in prosodic modeling:
Alexis Michaud (2008), "Tones and intonation: some current challenges", keynote speech, 8th International Seminar on Speech Production (ISSP'08), Strasbourg, pp. 13-18.
Abstract : It is
well established that lexical tones and intonation are not mutually
exclusive. Moreover, the presence or absence of lexical tones in a
language does not by itself constitute a fundamental typological divide
for intonation systems. Two dimensions of typological diversity are
brought out: (i) concerning lexical tone systems, it is suggested that
the analysis of contour tones into sequences of levels, which has
clearly demonstrated its validity for numerous languages, does not
actually apply to all; (ii) concerning intonation systems, it is
suggested that languages differ in whether – and to what
extent – they have ‘intonational tones', i.e. tones
of intonational origin that are structurally similar to lexical tones.
‘Intonational tones' strictly speaking appear to be
Alexis Michaud (2006), " Replicating in Naxi (Tibeto-Burman) an experiment designed for Yorùbá: an approach to ‘prominence-sensitive prosody’ vs. ‘calculated prosody’ ", Speech Prosody 2006, Dresden, May 2nd-5th, 2006, pp. 819-822 of the Proceedings. The short sound files referred to in the text are available here.
Abstract : The starting-point of this study is the hypothesis (suggested by an overview of typologically varied languages) that it may be useful to characterise prosodic systems in terms of the degree to which they rely on the calculation of tone sequences. Each language could be placed at a certain position along a typological continuum between two types of prosodic organisation: (i) ‘calculated prosody’, in languages such as Yorùbá (in which tone serves complex morphophonological functions), whose prosodic structure hinges on the calculation of a tone sequence, by categorical processes such as the association of lexical tones and/or boundary tones, reassociation/‘tone floating’, and downstep; and (ii) ‘prominence-sensitive prosody’, typologically more common, found in languages such as Chinese, which have fewer elements of categorical tonal calculation, and in which intonation appears to reflect phrasing and informational structure in a largely noncategorical way. In an effort to test (and refine) this hypothesis, an experiment used for Yorùbá [8, 9] is adapted to Naxi, a Sino-Tibetan language which, like Yorùbá, has three lexical tones (High, Mid and Low), but which is hypothesised to be closer to the ‘prominence-sensitive prosody’ type, whereas Yorùbá would be closer to the ‘calculated prosody’ type. This pilot study on sentences in which all syllables bear the same tone does bring out differences between the two languages in terms of phenomena of phrasing and of prominence.
An article in collaboration with Nick Clements & Cédric Patin, about tone features (forthcoming; if you would like a preprint version, please contact Cédric or me)
Clements N., Michaud A. & Patin C., forthcoming,
Do we need tone features?, in Tones
and Features, ed. by E. Hume, J. Goldsmith & W. L.
Abstract : In the earliest work on tone languages, tones were treated as atomic units: High, Mid, Low, High Rising, etc. Universal tone features were introduced into phonological theory by Wang 1967 by analogy to the universal features commonly used in segmental phonology. The implicit claim was that features served the same functions in tonal phonology as in segmental phonology. However, with the advent of autosegmental phonology (Goldsmith 1976), much of the original motivation for tone features disappeared. Contour tones in many languages were reanalyzed as sequences of simple level tones, calling into question the need for tonal features such as [±falling]. Processes of tone copy such as L(ow) > H(igh) / __ H(igh) were reinterpreted as tone spreading instead of feature assimilation. At about the same time, a better understanding of downstep emerged which allowed many spurious tone levels to be eliminated. As a result, in spite of the vast amount of work on tone languages over the past thirty years, the number of phenomena that appear to require tone features has become significantly reduced, raising the issue whether the notion of tone features is at all useful. This paper first reviews the basic functions for which segmental features have been proposed, and then examines the evidence that tone features are needed to serve these or other functions in tone languages. The discussion focuses successively on level tones, contour tones, and register, building on examples from Africa and Asia. Our current evaluation of the evidence is that tone features, to the extent that they appear motivated at all, do not serve the same functions as segmental features.
A book chapter in preparation about monosyllabicization in East Asian languages: "Monosyllabicization: patterns of evolution in Asian languages". Contact me if you would like a copy of this work-in-progress.
Abstract : Asian languages reveal a continuum from quasi-disyllables to highly eroded monosyllables. These variegated states are now understood to be different stages along a common evolutionary path. An overview is proposed, beginning with the earliest stages of monosyllabicization, before the generalization of a strictly monosyllabic phonological structure. The well-documented processes of consonantal depletion which lead to the development of phonation-type registers and tones are set out within a general model. Lastly, phonological evolutions observed at advanced stages of segmental depletion are discussed. The concluding note concerns the aftermath of segmental depletion: the re-creation of polysyllables.
Ph. D. dissertation: My Ph.D., supervised by Jacqueline Vaissière, hinges on questions of prosodic typology. Its title: "A comparison of the prosody of tone languages (Naxi and Vietnamese) with the prosody of English" (thesis written in French).
II. Issues in the phonetics/phonology of East Asian languages
An article which clarifies the voice quality of obstruent-final syllables, which is different in Vietnamese from what had been observed in neighbouring (and typologically close) languages.
Alexis Michaud (2004), " Final consonants and glottalization: new perspectives from Hanoi Vietnamese ", Phonetica, 61(2-3), pp. 119-146.
An article which supplements the previous one by adducing aerodynamic data:
Alexis Michaud, Vu-Ngoc Tuân, Angélique Amelot & Bernard Roubeau (2006), " Nasal release, nasal finals and tonal contrasts in Hanoi Vietnamese: an aerodynamic experiment ", Mon-Khmer Studies 36, pp. 121-137.
A 4-page paper showing the realizations of the same tones in different intonational contexts:
Alexis Michaud & Vu-Ngoc Tuân (2004), " Glottalized and Nonglottalized Tones under Emphasis: Open Quotient Curves Remain Stable, F0 Curve is Modified ", Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2004, Nara, Japan, pp. 745-748.
A conference paper which summarises the technical issues raised by the use of electroglottography as a tool to estimate the voice quality associated to each of the lexical tones of Vietnamese:
Vu-Ngoc Tuân, Christophe d’Alessandro & Alexis Michaud (2005), " Using open quotient for the characterization of Vietnamese glottalized tones ", Proceedings of Eurospeech-Interspeech 2005: 9th European Conference on Speech Communication and Technology, Lisbonne, pp. 2885-2889.
Alexis Michaud & He Xueguang (2007), "Reassociated tones and coalescent syllables in Naxi (Tibeto-Burman)", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 37(3), pp. 237-255.
Abstract : The Western dialect of Naxi has four lexical tones: High, Mid, Low and Rising; the latter is rare in the lexicon. Rising contours on monosyllables are frequent in connected speech, however, as a result of a process of syllable reduction: reduction of a morpheme carrying the High tone results in re-association of its tone to the syllable that precedes it in the sentence, creating a rising contour. An experiment (with one speaker and five listeners) establishes that there is not only one rising contour that originates in tonal reassociation, as reported in earlier descriptions, but two: Low-to-High and Mid-to-High – as could be expected by analogy with phenomena observed in Niger-Congo languages and elsewhere. A second set of experiments (same speaker; six listeners) investigates the reduction of Mid- and Low-tone syllables: they reduce to [ə̄] and [ə̀], respectively, and coalesce with the preceding syllable (in Naxi, syllabic structure is simply consonant + glide + vowel). Unlike High-tone syllable reduction, this process stops short of complete tonal de-linking. These experiments aim to provide a complete picture of syllable reduction patterns in Naxi. It is argued that the notions of floating tones and tonal reassociation can be usefully applied to the Naxi data.
Boyd Michailovsky & Alexis Michaud (2006), " Syllabic inventory of a Western Naxi dialect, and correspondence with Joseph F. Rock’s transcriptions ", Cahiers de Linguistique - Asie Orientale 35:1, pp. 3-21.
Alexis Michaud (2006), " Tonal reassociation and rising tonal contours in Naxi ", Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 29:1, pp. 61-94.
Alexis Michaud (2006), " Three extreme cases of neutralisation: nasality, retroflexion and lip-rounding in Naxi ", Cahiers de Linguistique - Asie Orientale 35:1, pp. 23-55.
Vaissière (2007), "The
phonetic evolution of
reduplicated expressions: reduplication, lexical tones and prosody in
Na (Naxi)", International Congress of Phonetic Sciences,
pp. 801-804. A longer version of this research has appeared in French:
A. Michaud & J. Vaissière (2007), "Le devenir phonétique
des formes rédupliquées :
réduplication, tons lexicaux et intonation en naxi",
Faits de langues,
29, pp. 23-35.
Since 2006, I also study Yongning Na, a.k.a. "Eastern Naxi" or "Mosuo". The first results have been published in 2008:
Alexis Michaud (2008), "Phonemic and tonal analysis of Yongning Na", Cahiers de linguistique - Asie Orientale, 37(2), pp. 159-196.
The third language of the "Na(xi) group of languages" which I am currently studying is Laze, a language spoken in Sichuan. Two field trips (in 2008 and 2009) have shed light on some major issues of Laze phonology. An article in Chinese is in press; if you would like a copy, please contact me.
A synchronic study of the prosodic system of Shixing (Shu-hing), a language which is related to the "Naish" languages (Naxi, Na and Laze) -- with a history of language contact which still need to be investigated:
Ekaterina Chirkova & Alexis Michaud (2009), "Approaching the prosodic system
of Shixing", Language
and Linguistics, 10(3), pp. 539-568.
A substantial article, synthesizing the results of several years of experimental work:
Martine Mazaudon & Alexis Michaud (2008), "Tonal contrasts and initial consonants: a case study of Tamang, a ‘missing link’ in tonogenesis", Phonetica, 65(4), pp. 231-256.
division of Tibeto-Burman) is spoken at the edge of the East Asian
"tone-prone" zone, next to the almost tone-free Indian linguistic area,
and is, chronologically, at the late end of the tone multiplication
wave which has swept through East Asia in the course of the last two
millenia. It can be regarded as a 'missing link' in tonogenesis:
following the loss of voicing contrasts on syllable-initial consonants,
Tamang has four tonal categories instead of its earlier two-tone
system; the present state of the prosodic system is typologically
transitional, in that these four tonal categories are realised by
several cues which include fundamental frequency (F0), phonation type,
and allophonic variation in the realisation of consonants. Acoustic and
electroglottographic recordings of 131 words in two carrier sentences
by five speakers were conducted (total number of target syllables
analysed: 1651). They allow for a description in terms of F0, glottal
open quotient, duration, and realisation of consonants. The results
confirm the diversity of cues to the four tonal categories, and show
evidence of laxness on tones 3 and 4, i.e. on the two tones which
originate diachronically in voiced initials. The discussion hinges on
the phonological definition of tone.
A short conference article comparing three Asian tone systems with very different structures:
Alexis Michaud & Martine Mazaudon (2006), " Pitch and voice quality characteristics of the lexical word-tones of Tamang, as compared with level tones (Naxi data) and pitch-plus-voice-quality tones (Vietnamese data) ", Speech Prosody 2006, Dresde, 2-5 mai 2006, pp. 823-826 des Actes. The excerpts (audio and electroglottographic) and the additional figures referred to in the text are presented here.
A presentation emphasizing issues of phonological modeling:
Martine Mazaudon & Alexis Michaud (2006), " Issues in the theory of lexical tone: on the phonological modelling of the tones of Tamang, in light of a comparison with level tones (Naxi) and pitch-plus-voice-quality tones (Vietnamese) ", 14th Manchester Phonology Meeting, May 25th-27th, 2006. Powerpoint file available here.
III. Other research in phonetics/phonology
A reflection on the amplitude of the positive peaks (closing peaks) observed on the derivative of the electroglottographic signal. The conclusion is actually negative: this measurement does not amount to an estimation of spectral slope.
Alexis Michaud (2004), " A Measurement from Electroglottography: DECPA, and its Application in Prosody ", Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2004, Nara, Japan, pp. 633-636.
Alexis Michaud & Barbara Kühnert (submitted), " A pilot study on the F0 curve of syllable-initial sonorants, comparing nasals, lenis stops and fortis stops ", Proceedings of the 13th Villetaneuse Symposium on Oral English, ALOES, UFR L.S.H.S. & Laboratoire de linguistique informatique - Université Paris 13, Villetaneuse. Edited by Nicolas Ballier. (Submitted manuscript version.)
Abstract: Several recent publications raise the issue whether the F0 curve of syllable-initial sonorants can play a prosodic role. The experimental evidence adduced in the present pilot study consists of 15 C1VC2 words, where C1 = /p/, /t/, /k/, /b/, /d/, /g/, /m/ or /n/, V = /ɑː/, /iː/, /uː/, and C2 = /t/; these words were said twice inside a carrier sentence by 4 speakers of Southern Standard British English. Comparison of the F0 curves of the /m/-initial syllables with those of the obstruent-initial syllables suggests that only the part of the F0 curve which corresponds to the syllable rhyme is to be taken into account at the stage of the interpretation of the word’s intonation pattern.
(in French) Angélique Amelot and Alexis Michaud (2006), " Effets aérodynamiques du mouvement du velum : le cas des voyelles nasales du français ", XXVIe Journées d'Etude de la Parole, Dinard, 12-16 June 2006.
IV. About linguistic documentation
(in French) Alexis Michaud (2002), " Conservation
des langues et partage des ressources : le rôle des
chercheurs dans la mise en place de banques de
données ", Actes des XXIVe
Journées d'Etude de la Parole, Nancy, pp. 153-156. Abstract:
back at a century of speech recording, the legacy is not as
extensive—and nowhere as tidy—as the layman would
think. Research centres seldom keep track of the recordings
made by their researchers. This paper, focusing primarily on endangered
languages data, argues that a network of sound libraries associated
with university libraries and research centres should be set up to
build and disseminate corpora, following certain quality standards.
Researchers could then have access to databases that would reflect the
diversity of research purposes as well as the diversity of the
(in French) Alexis Michaud (2002), " Conservation des langues et partage des ressources : le rôle des chercheurs dans la mise en place de banques de données ", Actes des XXIVe Journées d'Etude de la Parole, Nancy, pp. 153-156.
Abstract: Looking back at a century of speech recording, the legacy is not as extensive—and nowhere as tidy—as the layman would think. Research centres seldom keep track of the recordings made by their researchers. This paper, focusing primarily on endangered languages data, argues that a network of sound libraries associated with university libraries and research centres should be set up to build and disseminate corpora, following certain quality standards. Researchers could then have access to databases that would reflect the diversity of research purposes as well as the diversity of the world’s languages.
(in French) (with Michel Jacobson) : " Conservation des langues menacées et partage des ressources : exemples et conseils pratiques ", invited talk at the Ecole d’été CNRS Linguistique de Corpus: constitution, archivage, évaluation, Caen, 14-19 juin 2004.
Latest update: Aug. 2012. Click here to contact me.