Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Dianne Bradley

Committee Members

Gita Martohardjono

Eva Fernández

Stuart Davis

Subject Categories



Loanwords, Mandarin, Chinese, Tones, Phonology, Adaptation


This study examines the tonal adaptation of English and Japanese loanwords in Mandarin, and considers data collected from different types of sources. The purpose overall is to identify the mechanisms underlying the adaptation processes by which tone is assigned, and to check if the same mechanisms are invoked regardless of donor languages and source types. Both corpus and experimental methods were utilized to survey a broad sampling of borrowings and a wide array of syllable types that target specific phonetic properties.

To maximally rule out the effect of semantic tingeing, this study examined English place names that were extracted from a dictionary and from online travel blogs. And to explore how semantic association might interfere with the adaptation processes, this study also investigated a separate corpus of Japanese manga role names and brand names. Revisiting discussions in previous studies about how phonetic properties of the source form might affect tonal assignments in the adapted forms, this study also included an expanded reanalysis of adaptations elicited in an experimental setting.

Observations made in the study suggest that the primary mechanisms behind tonal assignments for loanwords in Mandarin operate at a level beyond any usual phonological concerns: the adaptation processes are heavily reliant on factors that are inherent to Mandarin lexical distributions, such as tone probability and character frequency. Adapters apparently utilize their tacit knowledge about such distributional properties when assigning tones. Also crucial to the tonal assignment mechanism is the seeking of appropriate characters based on their meanings, either to avoid unintended readings of loanwords or to form desired interpretations. Such adaptation mechanisms are mainly attributable to the morpho-syllabic nature of the Chinese writing system, the language’s high productivity of compound words, and its high incidence of homophony. Also noted in the study is the influence of prescriptive conventions formulated for formally established loanwords.

Research findings reported in this study highlight such non-phonological aspects of loanword adaptation, especially the role of the writing system, that have been underestimated to date in the field of loanword phonology and cross-linguistic studies of loanword typology.

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