The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 4/19 -  Erin Olson (MIT)

Speaker: Erin Olson (MIT)
Title: Stress, pitch, and schwa in Passamaquoddy-Maliseet
Date and time: Thursday, April 19, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Passamaquoddy-Maliseet (Eastern Algonquian; spoken in Maine and New Brunswick) is well-known for having reduced vowels that are in many cases invisible to the stress/pitch accent system (LeSourd 1988, 1993; Hagstrom, 1995). While previous analyses have assumed that this invisibility is due to some sort of structural deficiency, such as lack of a mora or lack of a syllable node, I propose that it can be adequately explained by only making reference to two phonetic properties of the language. The first phonetic property that indicates stress placement is the presence of high pitch, in contrast to low-pitched unstressed syllables (LeSourd, 1988, 1993). I will present a phonetic study of pitch based on data from the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Dictionary Project (Language Keepers & Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Dictionary Project, 2016) showing that this claim is largely correct — stress is crucially accompanied by a rise in pitch, although there is rarely evidence for an obligatory initial stress, as claimed by LeSourd (1988, 1993). Based on this evidence, I propose an updated analysis of the basic stress pattern, framed within OT (Prince & Smolensky, 1993). The second phonetic property that influences stress placement is the substantially reduced duration of schwa, as compared to other vowels. A second phonetic study of pitch and vowel duration will be presented, showing that schwa is not only too short to host the full pitch rise associated with stress, but also too short to host the full fall in pitch between stresses. As a result, stress and pitch accent must shift one syllable to the left of its expected place in order to be adequately realized, leading to the apparent invisibility of schwa with respect to the stress system. As before, an analysis within OT will be provided.