The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 12/12 - Lee Bickmore (University at Albany) & Winfred Mkochi (University of Malawi)

Presenter:  Lee Bickmore (University at Albany) & Winfred Mkochi (University of Malawi)
Title:Segmental and Tonal Absolute Neutralization in CiTonga
Date/Time: Wednesday, December 12, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

CiTonga, an under-described Malawian Bantu language, exhibits a complex array of stem tone patterns. We show that these patterns can be accounted for by assuming that in addition to various lexical High tones present underlyingly, melodic (grammatical) High tones are also added. These target the stem-initial TBU if it is free, otherwise the final one. Two productive tonal processes are key to understanding the surface tones: Tone Doubling, which spreads an underlying H to the following mora, and Phrase-final Left Shift, which shifts a H off a phrase-final mora to the phrase-penultimate one. These two processes create a variety of tonal configurations, many of which violate the Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP). We show that in some cases these violations simply remain, while in other cases they are repaired. Of interest is the fact that four different repair strategies are used depending on 1) whether one or both Hs are multiply linked and 2) the domain in which the OCP violation is found (e.g. within the stem, across the stem, or across words). Finally, we present two TAMs, the Subjunctive and Imperative, which seem to have anomalous surface tone patterns, given the productive rules which have been motivated to that point. To account for these we present and discuss an abstract analysis which involves an absolute neutralization. For the subjunctive, we propose that even though the Subject Prefixes uniformly surface as Low, they must be set up as High in order to trigger the various processes which directly account for the surface stem tone patterns, even though this H is not ultimately realized. For the imperative, a segmental prefix is posited in order to trigger the appropriate processes, which must ultimately be deleted (i.e. both the mora and tone of the prefix). We conclude by briefly comparing this analysis to several alternatives.