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Lexical analyses of the function and phonology of Papuan Malay word stress

  • Constantijn Kaland EMAIL logo , Angela Kluge and Vincent J. van Heuven
From the journal Phonetica


The existence of word stress in Indonesian languages has been controversial. Recent acoustic analyses of Papuan Malay suggest that this language has word stress, counter to other studies and unlike closely related languages. The current study further investigates Papuan Malay by means of lexical (non-acoustic) analyses of two different aspects of word stress. In particular, this paper reports two distribution analyses of a word corpus, 1) investigating the extent to which stress patterns may help word recognition and 2) exploring the phonological factors that predict the distribution of stress patterns. The facilitating role of stress patterns in word recognition was investigated in a lexical analysis of word embeddings. The results show that Papuan Malay word stress (potentially) helps to disambiguate words. As for stress predictors, a random forest analysis investigated the effect of multiple morpho-phonological factors on stress placement. It was found that the mid vowels /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ play a central role in stress placement, refining the conclusions of previous work that mainly focused on /ɛ/. The current study confirms that non-acoustic research on stress can complement acoustic research in important ways. Crucially, the combined findings on stress in Papuan Malay so far give rise to an integrated perspective to word stress, in which phonetic, phonological and cognitive factors are considered.

Corresponding author: Constantijn Kaland, Institute of Linguistics/SFB-1252, University of Cologne, Luxemburger Straße 299, 50939Köln, Germany, E-mail:


The authors thank two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper. Parts of this work are based on earlier studies: Kaland et al. (2019) and Kaland and Van Heuven (2020).

  1. Author contributions: CK: concept and design, analysis and interpretation of data, drafting and revising manuscript. AK: interpretation of data, revising manuscript. VvH: interpretation of data, revising manuscript.

  2. Funding sources: The research for this paper has been funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – Project-ID 281511265 – SFB 1252 Prominence in Language.

  3. Conflict of interest statement: The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

  4. Statement of ethics: The paper is exempt from ethical committee approval. No humans were tested for the analyses reported in this paper.


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Received: 2020-10-21
Accepted: 2021-03-23
Published Online: 2021-04-23
Published in Print: 2021-04-27

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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