LSAL 15: Benue-Congo Prosodic Phonology and Morphology in Optimality Theory

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Benue-Congo Prosodic Phonology and Morphology in Optimality Theory

Olanike-Ola Orie
Tulane University

This is the first book to address prosodic problems in African languages within the constraint-based Optimality Theory, a recently developed alternative to derivational generative phonology. With compelling data from several Benue-Congo languages spoken in Nigeria, Togo, and the Republic of Benin, the book examines and evaluates current issues in prosodic theory; it argues based on prosodic asymmetries that some prevailing claims on prosodic structure cannot be maintained.

First, it is argued, based on asymmetries involving tone-bearing status and the ability to constitute a syllable peak, that there is a structural distinction between consonantal moras and vocalic moras: the nuclear-mora and non nuclear-mora distinction. Second, while languages such as Ondo-Yoruba and Emai syllabify a vowel regardless of whether it is preceded by an onset or not, in languages such as Gokana, Standard Yoruba, and Owon-Afa, a syllable is phonologically active only if it has an onset. Onsetless syllables are phonologically inert. To account for the inertness of these superficial syllables, it is argued that they are in fact not syllables, but moras which remain phonologically unsyllabified. Third, the foot utilized for morphological processes in examined tonal non-stress languages is binary and headed, contradicting the hypothesis that morphological feet are binary and headless. Fourth, evidence is adduced to sho that minimal and maximal size effects are attested at the prosodic word level. Contrary to the existing view, it is argued that two separate constraints, properheadedness and foot binarity, are required for an adequate analysis of minimality. This makes it possible to explain the diverse instantiation of the minimal word and to account for the erstwhile recalcitrant data in the language acquisition literature. Concerning maximality, it is observed that the prosodic word is maximally expressed as two feet. This restriction is proposed to follow form the principle of binarity, a pervasive principle in antural language phonology.

This book also addresses the issue of formalizing typological variation: despite the typological unity in the Benue-Congo system, the specific instantiation of prosodic constituents vary typologically from language to language. Attested typological variation is straightforwardly accounted for in otpimality Theory by the variable rankings of a set of constraints provided by Universal Grammar. On this view, the prosodic unity is rooted in the universality of the constraints, while the diversity simply follows from the rankings assigned to the constraints by individual grammars.

This book will interest linguists, africanists, and all those interested in natural language phenomena.

"This is a fine contribution, with significant new analysis throughout, important ideas about prosodic structure developed in a new context, and strong evidence for the proposals offered"
-- Alan Prince, Rutgers University

ISBN 9783895861741. LINCOM Studies in African Linguistics 15. 240pp. 1997.

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