Hiaki Pitch Accent

In a Hiaki word with multiple syllables, one syllable will usually be more prominent than the others. In languages like English, the prominent syllable is often indicated by the intensity and duration of its vowel, meaning that it might be pronounced longer and louder. Linguists refer to this as “stress accent”. However, in “pitch accent” languages like Japanese, the vowel’s change in pitch is the only indication of which syllable is the prominent one. Some researchers have said that Hiaki is a stress accent language, while others have said it is a pitch accent language, and others still have claimed it is a combination of both.

Acoustic and perceptual correlates of the Hiaki pitch accent

This paper investigates the correlation between the acoustics and perception of the Hiaki pitch accent system. Specifically, the paper examines the behavior of the morphologically determined pitch accent. A morphologically determined pitch accent system is one in which a vowel’s pitch changes in a word depending on the prefixes and suffixes attached to the word. An example of this in Hiaki can be seen in the words naamu (cloud) and namuta (cloud.acc). Naamu has two vowels: a long [a] and a regular [u], and there is a very noticeable difference in the pitch, intensity, and length of these two vowels within the word. Namuta (naamu + -ta) has three vowels ([a], [u], and [a]), and these vowels do not exhibit any major differences when the word is spoken. When examples of words like these were played to native English speakers in experiments, they could easily identify the prominence in words like naamu but they struggled with words like namuta. The results of these experiments did not produce much new evidence for how the morphologically determined pitch accent system is realized and where the pitch accent is located, so further research is necessary to better understand Hiaki pitch accent.

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Hiaki Pitch Accent

This paper examines lexically determined pitch accent in Hiaki. In a lexically determined pitch accent system, a vowel’s pitch within a word is an inherent, inseparable part of the word. Not all researchers agree on the placement of the Hiaki pitch accent; some researchers argue that it occurs on the first or second syllable, while others claim that it falls on the first or second mora. A mora is a smaller unit within a syllable. A syllable ending in a short vowel will consist of one mora, while syllable ending in a long vowel will have two (Davis, 2006). In this paper, a recording of native Hiaki speaker Jose Maria Cupis made by Maria Florez Leyva was analysed to further describe the pitch accent system and present evidence suggesting that Hiaki’s lexically determined pitch accent is assigned to morae rather than syllables. For example, looking at the minimal pairs (two words that differ in only one sound) wáate (remember) and waáte (some people) and káate (build a house) and kaáte (walk), we can see that the pitch accent falls on different morae but not on different syllables. Furthermore, we can look for the placement of the pitch accent in different forms of the same word. In the word kaáte, the pitch accent falls on the second mora. When kaáte changes to kateu, the pitch accent remains at the second mora, which is the vowel /e/ in this case, in the second syllable. This evidence supports the hypothesis that each Hiaki word assigns pitch accent to either the first or second mora and not to whole syllables.


Davis, S. (2006). Syllabic Constituents. In Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics(2nd ed., pp. 326-328). doi:10.1016/B0-08-044854-2/00040-7