Phonological theory

Tone phenomena in Bantu languages

This research is on accounting for the typology of tonal phenomena in Optimality Theory using Span Theory (McCarthy 2004).

In an article with Lee Bickmore (University at Albany, SUNY), we make two proposals about spans (binarity and minimal overlap) that we argue are necessary to account for bounded tone spreading and fusion in Cilungu.

Key, Michael and Bickmore, Lee (2014). “Headed tone spans: Binarity and minimal overlap” Journal of Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 32(1): 35-53. Special issue: “Microlinguistics in Southern Africa”.

Article [PDF]

In an earlier paper, I made proposals to extend Span Theory to account for local and unbounded H tone spreading, downstep, and H tone shift/displacement patterns that are found commonly in Bantu languages.

Key, Michael (2007). “Headed Spans and Bantu tonology” In: L. Bateman et al. (eds.) University of Massachusetts Occasional Papers in Linguistics 32: Papers in Optimality Theory III. Amherst, Mass.: GLSA. 187-207. [Also available on the Rutgers Optimality Archive, ROA-809].

Paper [PDF]


Imbrication in Bantu

This research is on a complex alternation called imbrication (Bastin 1983). Imbrication is argued to be a kind of metathesis that is motivated by a morpheme-specific constraint (on the perfective suffix) demanding that the phonologically-stressed syllable (the penult) also be heavy. The analysis is supported by the cross-Bantu observation that the penult in perfectives is always long — though imbrication is not the only process that can create a long penult in Bantu, which can therefore render imbrication’s lengthening property sometimes opaque. A morpheme-specific analysis of imbrication is required for most languages because the homophonous applicative suffix does not trigger the alternation. The analysis of imbrication posits both morpheme-specific markedness and faithfulness constraints, which is discussed in the context of other approaches to morphophonology in OT.

Imbrication is also subject to several phonological conditions (base minimality, NC clusters) and feeds other phonological processes (consonant deletion, compensatory lengthening, vowel coalescence). Therefore, the overall argument includes the proposed morpheme-specific constraints, as well as proposals about the constraints responsible for imbrication’s phonological conditions and consequences.

Paper [PDF]


Coalescence and the architecture of OT

This paper describes a future research project on coalescence, which promises to contribute to ongoing research that compares the predictions of classic parallel OT with serial OT (in which the candidates only differ from the input by one phonological operation). Serial OT analyses of opacity, cluster simplification, harmony, and other phenomena make different typological predictions than parallel OT, and the analyses of coalescence presented here similarly compare the predictions of parallel and serial OT. Various experimental tests of the perception of coalescence are also described. Please do not cite without permission.

Paper [PDF]

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