The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 10/20 - Laura McPherson

Speaker: Laura McPherson (Dartmouth University)
Title: Problems in Seeku plural formation
Date: Oct. 20 (M)
Time: 5:00 – 6:30
Place: 32D-461

On the surface, the plural in Seeku (Mande, Burkina Faso) is marked by some combination of tone raising, diphthong formation, vowel fronting, or nasalization. For example, bi21 ‘goat’ has the plural bi3 ‘goats’ with tone raising, ko2koː21 ‘rooster’ has the plural ko3koeː3 ‘roosters’ with diphthong formation and tone raising, dyo1ŋma3 ‘cat’ has the plural dyo1ŋmɛ3 ‘cats’ with vowel fronting, and sa21 ‘rabbit’ has the plural sɛ̃3 with nasalization, vowel fronting, and tone raising. I argue that the segmental changes are best understood as suffixation of a front vowel /-ɛ/, accompanied by vowel harmony ([ATR] and [high]) and vowel elision as a hiatus repair strategy. Thus, a form like ‘goat’ has the following derivation:

UR                   /bi-ɛ/
Harmony       |bi-i|
Elision             |b-i|
SR                     [bi]

While this analysis works in a derivational framework, it runs into trouble in a parallel model of phonology due to counterbleeding opacity between elision and vowel harmony: due to the largely monosyllabic nature of Seeku, most often the only vowel that remains in the plural (under this analysis) is the vowel of the plural suffix, yet it displays harmony with the elided vowel of the stem. In this talk, I show how the rule-based analysis accounts for the data then briefly discuss the varying levels of success of different constraint-based analyses, including standard I-O OT, output-oriented constraints, Harmonic Serialism, and contrast preservation.