The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 10/18 - Trevor Driscoll (MIT)

Speaker: Trevor Driscoll (MIT)
Title: Voicing as a Diagnostic of Foot Structure
Time: Monday, October 18th, 5pm – 6:30pm

Abstract: There is a substantial body of literature that indicates that fortition targets foot-initial position and lenition targets foot-medial and foot-final position (Pierrehumbert & Talkin 1992, Byrd 1994, Dilley et al. 1996, Cho & Keating 2001, Keating et al. 2003). Foot-medial consonants appear lenis due to the absence of fortition, or simply by virtue of being foot-medial. I argue that lenition processes can be used to determine whether a pair of syllables is parsed together in a foot much as fortition can be used to locate an initial foot boundary. This provides phonologists an additional tool to diagnose various aspects of foot structure that are not always readily identifiable by stress assignment.
Little is known about the metrical structure of Hidatsa, a Siouan language spoken in North Dakota. A recent phonetic study finds that words bear a single stress on a quantity-sensitive iamb at the left edge of the word (Metzler 2021).

(1)   Initial LL   meɁépi    ‘grinder’      Initial HL    máːtsu      ‘berry’
        Initial LH  tsaɡáːɡa   ‘bird’            Initial HH   kóːxaːti    ‘corn’

The remainder of the literature on Hidatsa makes no reference to foot structure whatsoever, and the stress data from Metzler are not particularly informative about feet beyond the initial iamb. It is necessary to turn to other cues to learn more about feet in Hidatsa.
Harris & Voegelin (1939) note that underlyingly plain stops and affricates become voiced intervocalically. Although all stops become voiced between vowels, the duration of voicing in intervocalically voiced stops is determined by a stop’s position in the foot; stops in foot-medial position are significantly more voiced than intervocalic stops in other prosodic environments:

(2)                        Voicing (ms)     Voicing (%)       Fully Voiced (FV/Total)
       Initial  LĹ    88 ms                 90%                     46/60
       Stray             72 ms                 69%                     18/53
       p-value        < .001                 < .001                  < .001

In addition to demonstrating that voicing interacts with feet, I further show that a complete sketch of the metrical structure of Hidatsa can be given using voicing, with only limited assistance from more conventional indicators of foot structure such as stress.
Cues to foot structure other than stress are of particular interest in iambic languages. Kager (1993) and Hayes (1995) have famously debated whether asymmetrical iambs (LH) are grammatical, but foot typologies with and without (LH) make identical predictions for iambic stress. Foot-medial voicing in Hidatsa is able to distinguish between the two. Hayes’ foot typology predicts that there should be no contrast in voicing between LL and LH because both are acceptable iambs. The robust voicing found in foot-medial stops is absent in LH pairs, which suggests that LH is not a foot.

(3)                      Voicing (ms)        Voicing (%)     Fully Voiced (FV/Total)
        LL              86 ms                     87%                  104/151
        LH             78 ms                      73%                  34/84
        p-value     .01                           .001                   < .001

These results provide evidence against the canonical iamb, in support of Kager’s typology of feet.