E1.1.1 Listen to the following sentences spoken (i) normally and (ii) strictly on a monotone (= the pitch of the voice stays level, not going up and not going down). Repeat them aloud in the same way.
Jacob Chu writes from Hong Kong to claim that when the female speaker says Silly old fool! for the second time she uses not a monotone but a low fall. He asks
Is a low falling nuclear tone considered a monotone?The answer to that question is of course no.
I have listened again to the sound clip. I still hear not a low fall but a low level pattern, i.e. a monotone. Do you, too?
Anyhow, I then made a spectrogram of all ten utterances: five with intonation, five on monotones of various heights. Here it is. (As usual, click to enlarge. You can access the whole sound clip here.)
As you can see, the tracing for the fundamental frequency for the bit we are interested in (ringed in red) does seem to show two slightly falling tones.
On the face of it this looks like that bugbear of intonation work, a mismatch between what the human ear perceives and what physical measurements of the speech signal tell us.
Then again, Jacob Chu must either be a native speaker of Cantonese or at least very familiar with it. And Cantonese tone 4 is described as “low-mid to low, falling” (the IPA Handbook) or “low falling, very low level” (Wikipedia, see graphic). In Daniel Jones's description (Principles of the IPA, 1949) tone 4 is described as "low falling (with very low level as a common variant)", tone 6 as "low level (...but higher than the variant of [tone 4])".
This would suggest that speakers of Cantonese might well find it difficult to hear the difference between low fall and very low level, since both map onto their tone 4 (as against a not-maximally-low low level, which maps onto tone 6). Could it be that Jacob’s L1 is influencing his perception? Or is it my L1 influencing mine? Or do we just say that different people sometimes hear the same physical reality differently?