The present study is designed to examine the distribution of the Mandarin vowels from a typological perspective. Despite little research on this topic, earlier literature has reported that Mandarin is an exceptional language which contains a larger number of uncommon marked vowels (e.g., Crothers 1978). The purpose of the present study is twofold. The primary aim is to achieve a better understanding of the typological features of the Mandarin vowel system by analyzing the frequency distribution of the Mandarin vowels and the relation between markedness and distribution. Another goal is to examine the vowel distribution differences between two types of language data, namely, lexicon and natural speech. Results of quantitative analyses reveal that with the most unmarked peripheral vowels /a/, /i/, and /u/ being the most frequently occurring ones, the overall vowel distribution patterns in Mandarin lexicon conform to the cross-linguistic tendencies of vowel distribution and markedness. While the tendency of most vowels favoring Tone 4 is found, the relative percentage of Tone 1 and Tone 3 occurrences appears to be higher in the low vowels than the high and mid vowels in lexicon. However, different distribution patterns emerge when comparing lexicon and natural speech, in that the mid vowels (i.e., /ə/, /ɤ/, /o/) and apical vowel (i.e., /ʅ/) appear at significantly higher frequencies in natural speech. The differences can be explained by the fact that these vowels occur in some high frequency words (e.g., ‘de’, ‘wǒ’, ‘shì’). Findings of this study suggest that different claims in previous studies of phonological typology are in part attributed to the nature of the language data examined (e.g., phonemic inventory, lexicon, natural speech).
3. Research questions and methodology
5. Discussion and conclusion