Sam Hellmuth



Hellmuth, S. 2006. Intonational pitch accent distribution in Egyptian Arabic.

School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London


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Egyptian Arabic (EA) is a stress-accent language with postlexical intonational pitch

accents. This thesis investigates EA pitch accents within the autosegmental-metrical

(AM) framework (Ladd 1996). The goal of the study is to identify the place of EA in the

spectrum of cross-linguistic prosodic variation, and to resolve the challenge it presents

to existing phonological accounts of pitch accent distribution.


In a corpus of read and (semi-)spontaneous EA speech a pitch accent was found on

(almost) every content word, and in the overwhelming majority of cases the same pitch

accent type is observed on every word. The typological implications of EA pitch accent

distribution are explored in the context of the typology of word-prosodic variation

(Hyman 2001) and variation in the domain of pitch accent distribution is proposed as a

new parameter of prosodic variation.


A survey of EA prosodic phrasing and of the relative accentuation of function words

and content words shows that the correct generalisation for EA is that there is a pitch

accent on every Prosodic Word (PWd). A phonological analysis is proposed within

Optimality Theory (Prince & Smolensky 1993), formalising the two-way relation

between tone and prosodic prominence at all levels of the Prosodic Hierarchy.


An experimental study suggests that alignment of the H peak in EA pitch accents varies

with stressed syllable type (cf. Ladd et al 2000), and is analysed as phonological

association of the pitch accent to the foot. A final experiment quantifies the prosodic

reflexes of information and contrastive focus. Even when post-focal and ‘given’ EA

words still bear a pitch accent, but there are gradient effects of focus in the form of pitch

range manipulation. Independence of pitch accent distribution from information

structure supports the formal analysis of EA pitch accent distribution within the

phonological part of the grammar.