Bert Remijsen

Three-level vowel length and floating quantity in Shilluk*

Bert Remijsen, University of Edinburgh

Determining and explaining the range of possible sound patterns in the world’s languages is a central goal of phonology, and underdocumented languages play an important role in this typological endeavour. This presentation offers evidence for two typologically interesting phenomena relating to vocalic quantity. One is three-level vowel length, the other is floating quantity. Both of these phenomena relate to the phonology of Shilluk, a Nilo-Saharan language spoken in South Sudan.

The finding of three-level vowel length in Shilluk and closely-related languages such as Dinka (Andersen 1987, Remijsen & Gilley 2008) challenges the assumption that vowel length is maximally binary (Duanmu 2009). As for floating quantity, it is well known that the phonological form of morphemes can include floating tones, i.e., tones that are not associated with the segmental sequence, and that require a particular environment to dock phonologically and be realised (Welmers 1970, Daly & Hyman 2007). I will present evidence that vocalic quantity may display the same pattern. That is, Shilluk presents nouns that end in vocalic quantity, which is realised only when the word is followed by a prefix vowel.

Accountability is a particular concern in the study of underdocumented languages (cf. Himmelmann 1998, Woodbury 2003). In order to address this issue, the investigations of both of these phenomena combine qualitative and quantitative methodologies, and the report includes numerous sound illustrations.

*The study on three-level vowel length represents collaborative work with Otto Gwado Ayoker and Signe Jørgensen (Remijsen, Ayoker & Jørgensen, to appear); the study on floating quantity represents work in progress, in a joint effort with Otto Gwado Ayoker.

Andersen, Torben (1987). The Phonemic System of Agar Dinka.Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 9, 1-27.

Daly, John P., and Larry M. Hyman (2007). On the representation of tone in Peñoles Mixtec. International Journal of American Linguistics73, 165–207.

Duanmu, San (2009). Syllable Structure: The Limits of Variation. Oxford University Press.

Himmelmann, Nikolaus (1998). Documentary and descriptive linguistics. Linguistics 36,161–195.

Remijsen, Bert & Leoma Gilley (2008). Why are three-level vowel length systems rare? Insights from Dinka (Luanyjang dialect). Journal of Phonetics 36, 318-344.

Remijsen, Bert, Otto G. Ayoker, & Signe Jørgensen (to appear). Three-level vowel length in Shilluk. To appear in Phonology.

Welmers, William E. (1970). Igbo tonology. Studies in African Linguistics 1, 255–278.

Woodbury, Anthony C. (2003). Defining documentary linguistics.Language Documentation and Description 1, 35-51.

(Slides for the talk can be found here; slides with embedded sounds (in .pptx format) can be found here.)

Saturday, October 6, 4:30-5:30pm
Great Hall, International House, UC San Diego (map)