Perception of moraic and syllabic
text-setting among Japanese native
speakers and learners
Rebecca L Starr
National University of
[email protected]
Stephanie S Shih
University of California, Merced
[email protected]
LSA, Portland, Oregon
January 2015
The Mora in Japanese
Japanese = prototypical example of a
“mora-based” language
e.g., kai.zen = [ka]μ[i]μ.[ze]μ[n]μ
Rhythmic timing depends on mora units
(Homma 1981; Port et al. 1987; cf., Beckman 1982)
Phonological/morphological implications:
e.g., accent placement, compensatory
Traditional Japanese poetry = mora counting
e.g., haiku 5 – 7 – 5 mora form
The Syllable in Japanese?
Syllable usually treated as unnecessary or
unimportant in Japanese phonology.
Labrune (2012): no positive psycholinguistic
evidence for the “cognitive reality” of the
syllable in Japanese.
The Syllable in Japanese?
Kubozono (1999; et seq.): Japanese is (in part) a
syllable-based language.
accent placement, word formation, etc.
Inagaki et al. (2000) find that Japanese
children show no mora preference until they
become literate: possible role of mora-based
Lexical Strata in Japanese
Major lexical strata in Japanese (Itô and Mester
Yamato (native Japanese)
Sino-Japanese (Chinese origin)
Ex:人間 ningen (‘human’)
Foreign (~85% English origin)
Ex: 好きsuki (‘to like’)
Ex: ベンチ benchi (‘bench’)
Ex: フワフワ fuwafuwa (‘fluffy’)
Lexical Strata in Japanese
Strata characterized by different phonotactics,
and phonological rules (Itô and Mester 1999).
e.g., long a never occurs in Sino-Japanese words.
Because Chinese and English are syllable-based,
is it possible that the syllable is a more salient
unit in the Sino and Foreign strata?
Alternatively, does widespread knowledge of
English contribute to increased salience of the
syllable in just the Foreign stratum?
Evidence from Text-Setting
Text-setting: the pairing of language and
music in song.
Typologically, text-setting makes use of salient
prosodic units particular to a language.
English: syllables, lexical and phrasal stresses
(Halle & Lerdhal 1993; Shih 2008; Hayes 2009; a.o.)
Cantonese: tonal melodies matched in musical
melodies (Yung 1991)
Similar claims for metrical typology (Hanson and
Kiparksy 1996)
Evidence from Text-Setting
Japanese text-setting:
Claimed to operate as a mora-based system
(Kubozono 1999; Hayes and Swiger 2008; cf. Manabe 2009)
= each mora must receive (at least) one note.
e.g., do.ra.go-n bo-o.ru (Dragonball Z theme, 1989)
x x x x x x x = 7 notes
Evidence from Text-Setting
BUT, multi-moraic notes show up frequently
in modern Japanese songs.
Similar findings in poetry (Tanaka 2012)
In these settings, it is the syllable that receives
one note.
e.g., do- ra- gon boo-ru
x x x x x = 5 notes
Corpus study:
Starr & Shih (2014)
Our corpus study of Japanese songs found that
syllabic settings are prevalent throughout the
lexical strata of Japanese.
However, syllabic settings were significantly more
common in Foreign stratum words than in SinoJapanese and Yamato words.
e.g., minto (‘mint’) is more likely to be min-to while
minna (‘everyone’) is more likely to be mi-n-na.
Corpus study:
Starr & Shih (2014)
Corpus evidence suggests the syllable is a
salient prosodic unit in Japanese.
Two key proposals:
The traditional preference for mora-based
settings in Japanese song is a stylistic norm, not a
reflection of a lack of syllables.
Knowledge of English is the most likely factor
behind the preference for syllabic settings in
Foreign stratum words.
What about ordinary native
The corpus of Japanese songs reflects the
behavior of expert Japanese lyricists.
What about ordinary Japanese listeners: do
they perceive moraic and syllabic settings as
equally acceptable?
Do they prefer syllabic settings for Foreign
stratum words?
What about learners?
Native speakers of English (and most other
languages), where the syllable is most
salient, encounter a new prosodic system
when learning Japanese.
Do learners of Japanese learn to attend to
moraic units? Do they learn to disprefer
syllabic settings, which are the default style
of their native languages?
Perception study
Perception experiment to test the judgments
of native and learner listeners.
We want to test how ordinary listeners rate
various possible settings of Japanese lyrics to
a melody.
Novel methodology: Vocaloid
• Creating stimuli involving multiple sung
arrangements presents a challenge.
• We used Yamaha’s Vocaloid 3 software, which
produces synthesized sung Japanese.
• Linguistic variables:
– Coda-N (e.g, mi-n-to vs. min-to)
– ai (e.g., na-i-to vs. nai-to)
• Strata: Foreign vs. Sino-Japanese
– Not possible to make minimal pairs with Yamato
– Selected near-minimal pairs.
• Ex: ベンチbenchi (‘bench’) / 便宜 bengi (‘convenience’)
• Settings tested:
“it’s a mint”
– Mora:
mi-n-to da-yo
– Syllable:
min-to da-yo-ne
– Demi-Syllable(melisma):
mi-in-to da-yo
– Bad 1 (too small):
m-in-to da-yo
– Bad 2 (too large):
• Motsu-kun is learning to arrange lyrics to a
melody. Help him improve by rating his work!
(minto dayone)
• Asked to rate on 1-4
Likert scale.
Some Predictions
• Native listener preference for syllabic settings
will correspond to level of English exposure.
• Learners will like syllabic settings more than
native listeners do.
• Learners will show more native-like rating
patterns as they become more proficient in
Participants & Implementation
• 26 native Japanese speakers
– Asked for frequency of English use
• 12 Japanese learners (Eng & Chi native spkrs)
– Asked for length of Japanese study
• Survey conducted online using Qualtrics.
– Still recruiting participants: http://bit.ly/1oblYNz
• Data analyzed using t-tests and linear mixedmodel regression in R.
Ratings from native and
nonnative listeners
Findings: native listeners
• Native listeners rated syllabic (min-to) just as
highly as moraic setting (mi-n-to) (p = .219).
• Demi-syllabic (mi-in-to) was rated significantly
lower than syllabic (p = .0075). Why?
– In the demi-syllabic setting, there are 5 moras and 5
available notes, but the setting is not mora-based.
– In contrast, in the syllabic setting, too many moras to
fit into available notes. Syllabic is the only option.
 Conclusion:
o Native listeners prefer a one-to-one correspondence
between note and prosodic unit, whether mora or
Findings: learners
• Overall, Japanese learners rate moraic, syll.,
and demi-syll. settings as equally good.
– Moraic settings, which do not occur in English and
Chinese, are just as highly rated as familiar
syllable-based settings.
– Native and learner listeners differ significantly on
only the demi-syllabic setting.
• Let’s break this down by Japanese proficiency
* *
Findings: proficiency level
• Learners pick up the moraic segmentation
pattern quickly, with beginner learners giving
moraic settings equally high ratings as native
– This is surprising, in the sense that moraic
segmentation is not found in English or Chinese songs.
• As learners gain experience with Japanese, their
ratings of demi-syllabic settings move toward
native listener ratings.
Comparing the two variables
between coda-nasal and ai
• Moraic and syllabic settings are equally
felicitous for both variables for all listeners.
• Native listeners show a stronger dispreference
for demi-syllabic ai settings (e.g, na-ai-to) (p =
• In contrast, they are relatively okay with demisyllabic coda-nasal settings (e.g., mi-in-to) (p =
– Coda nasal had more syllable-based settings in
corpus data.
Findings: English exposure
among native listeners
Surprise finding:
more English exposure =
more “Japanese”-like judgments
• Native listeners who use English every day
rate moraic settings significantly more highly
(p = .0212).
– Prescriptive norm, perhaps correlated with higher
education / social class.
• Natives who use English less than monthly
rate bad settings more favorably (p = .0217):
they are worse at this task.
Findings: lexical strata
• Contra corpus results, there is no difference in
the ratings for Foreign and Sino-Japanese
words for any of the settings, for natives or
learners (β = 0.102, SE = 0.1115, t = 0.91).
• This is quite surprising: in the song corpora,
syllabic settings were preferred for Foreign
words across multiple lyricists and genres.
• Positive evidence for the cognitive reality of
the syllable in Japanese:
– Japanese listeners fully accept syllable-based
segmentation in contexts where moraic
segmentation is impractical.
– This is equally true for Japanese listeners who use
English less than monthly.
• Evidence supports our corpus study
conclusion that moraic text-setting is a
prescriptive, stylistic norm in Japanese:
– Native Japanese listeners who use English more
show stronger moraic preference.
• Relative acceptability of syllable-based
settings does not appear to result from
exposure to syllable-based languages.
• Corpus analysis found that songs in a range of
genres show consistent difference between
settings of Foreign and Sino-Japanese stratum
words, yet ordinary listeners show no such
difference in preferences.
• This suggests that the preference for syllabic
settings for Foreign words is stylistic, rather
than a result of some inherent prosodic
structure difference.
• Learners acquire an understanding of moraic
segmentation quickly, but take longer to
acquire dispreference for demi-syllabic
– Evidence that new prosodic systems are
acquirable as an adult.
• The quick acquisition of moraic segmentation
suggests that orthography indeed plays a
crucial role in the salience of the mora in
Thank you!
Acknowledgements to Noriko Manabe, Reiko Kataoka, Roey Gafter,
Junko Ito, Mie Hiramoto, Yosuke Sato, Sakiko Kajino, Nala Lee, and
Jason Ginsburg for their input and assistance.
どうも ありがとう
[email protected]
[email protected]
Future Work
• We have assumed that learners are acquiring
a new pattern when they give high ratings to
moraic settings.
• But perhaps native English and Chinese
speakers who have never heard Japanese
before also like moraic settings, although they
are unfamiliar.
• We are working on this!
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