The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 10/24 - Michael Kenstowicz

Speaker: Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Title: The Phonology and Phonetics of Chukchi Vowel Harmony
Date/Time: Wednesday, October 24, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831


Chukchi has a dominant-recessive vowel harmony system that divides its full vowels into two disjoint sets: dominant {a,o} vs. recessive {i,u,e}. The presence of a dominant vowel anywhere in the word (stem, prefix, suffix) causes the recessive vowels to shift: i>e, u>o, e>a. The schwa vowel is compatible with both harmony sets.  The {a,o} vs {i,u,e} distinction does not constitute a natural division given the customary [high], [low] and [back] features. Based on typological and fragmentary internal evidence, Kenstowicz (1979) proposed [ATR] as the feature distinguishing the two groups: {a,o} [-ATR] vs. {i,u,e} [+ATR]. In this presentation (based on collaboration with Tokusu Kurebito), a phonetic analysis of a corpus of 40 words elicited from five Chukchi speakers is presented in an effort to determine if there is evidence supporting the ATR analysis. Our tentative conclusion is largely negative raising anew the question of basis for the Chukchi harmony and the analytic challenges it presents.