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Doctoral dissertation project of Katharina Gayler

Referenz: Boersma, Paul & David Weenink. 2021. Praat: doing Phonetics by Computer (version 6.1.42)

The Prosody of Clause Chaining in Yali, a Trans-New Guinean Language

Yali is a Papuan language native to about 30.000 speakers in the Indonesian province Papua. My project investigates a prosodic phenomenon observable in Yali discourse, namely an apparently rather regular grouping of intonational phrases into larger units that could maybe be called intonational paragraphs. Primarily, I ask whether this grouping of phrases implements a prosodic constituent above the intonational phrase in Yali. Giving a thorough description of the (yet unresearched) prosodic system of Yali, I will thus develop a prosodic model for the language. Furthermore, I am interested in the presumably discourse-structuring function of this prosodic grouping. I will thus ask whether a prototypical content of such intonationally-defined paragraphs can be identified and investigate the alignment of the intonational paragraph with syntax. Syntactically, especially the potentially rather large syntactic unit of a clause chain seems to have a high correlation with the proposed intonational paragraph in Yali.

The goal of my project is thus both to contribute to the description of the yet under-researched language Yali and to gain new insights into the relation of prosody and syntax in discourse and on larger discourse units in general. On the latter point, Yali provides an especially interesting case example, because it uses a potentially paragraph-sized syntactic unit as well as a prosodic paragraph grouping and because the prosodic grouping into paragraph-sized units seems to be especially clear in Yali. Studying Yali, I therefore hope to also generate hypotheses for studying similar but less clearly visible phenomena in other languages.

My analyses will mostly be based on the investigation of recordings of spontaneous Yali discourse, including both narratives and dialogues.


Short biography

Katharina Gayler is part of the research project B05 “Prominence related structures in symmetrical voice systems and Papuan languages” of the CRC 1252 “Prominence in Language” at the University of Cologne. She started her dissertation on larger discourse units and prosody in Yali in May 2021, supervised by Prof. Dr. Nikolaus P. Himmelmann. Her research interests include the description of under-researched languages, prosody, tone and discourse structure. She earned her M.A. at the University of Cologne (Master Linguistics), writing her thesis on tone and number in the Zaghawa (Nilo-Saharan) noun phrase.