LINGUIST List 11.2774

Thu Dec 21 2000

Sum: Final Long Vowels

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Joaquim Brand�ode Carvalho, Final long vowels

Message 1: Final long vowels

Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2000 22:03:57 +0100
From: Joaquim Brand�ode Carvalho <>
Subject: Final long vowels

Dear colleagues,

A while ago, I posted the following query to the list:

Do you know of languages that have V/V:
contrasts *except* in word-final position, where only short vowels
would be allowed ? (I do not refer here to the well-known cases
of final unstressed syllables, where length contrasts may often

Many thanks to all who were kind enough to respond to my question:

Alain Th�riau
Jakob Dempsey
James L. Fidelholtz
Joost Kremers
Natasha Warner
Robert Orr
Tone Victoria Midtg�rd

According to their responses, the examples I was asking for do
exist, and the facts mentioned therein could be classified into three
categories :

1) Length contrasts are neutralized in final position, where only
*short* nuclei are allowed.
This is exactly what I was asking about. Shortening is
illustrated either by morpho-phonological alternations (b and d below)
or by sound change (c, e). However, in three cases (b, c, d), it is
(or may be) due to the fact that final syllables are unstressed.

a) Jakob Dempsey :
The situation you are looking for occurs
in many minority languages of southern China:
in the Tai-Kadai phylum, examples would be Lakkia, Mao-nan, Li (Hlai),
Zhuang, Bou-yi,
Dai, and to a lesser extent in Kam, Mu-lao, and Sui.
Also in You-mien (Hmong-Mien "Miao-Yao" phylum).
These are just some examples from standard textbooks (mostly in
Chinese). I'm sure there are a lot more.

b) Natasha Warner :
how about a language where underlying vowel length contrasts are
neutralized in certain environments, one of which is word finally?
This is approximately the case for the Costanoan language Mutsun (spoken
in Northern California near Monterey until about 1930, now extinct).
You can find details in Mark Okrand's dissertation, which was done at
the University of California, Berkeley, in
about 1977.

The situation is a bit more complicated, but I think that
word-final long vowels in any polysyllabic form are shortened, and word-final 
long vowels in monosyllabic forms are optionally shortened. (I'm pretty sure
vowel length doesn't contrast word finally even in the monosyllabic forms.)
Unfortunately, stress and vowel length got confounded in some of the field
work on the language. There is, thus, a doubt on whether length neutralization is or
not caused by the sole final context.

c) Joost Kremers :
i am not entirely sure, but it may be that arabic is an example of the sort of
language that you are looking for. in spoken cairene arabic, long vowels can
only appear in non-final position. that is, if a word ends in a vowel, that
vowel is always short.

long and short vowels contrast in all other positions, e.g. the minimal pair
'gamal' "camel", as opposed to 'gam�l' "beauty".

in spoken cairene arabic, a word can at most have one long vowel, and this
vowel is necessarily stressed. (which does not mean, by the way, that all
stressed vowels are long. just that all long vowels are stressed.)

there are, however, a few buts. first of all, the vowels that appear at the end
of words could be considered to be long vowels underlyingly. in such an
analysis, short vowels would simply be impossible in word-final position. so
one could argue that there is an opposition after all.

such an analysis is inspired by the analysis of classical arabic, where there
is an opposition between long and short vowels in word-final position. long
vowels were generally shortened, whereas short vowels were usually dropped in

Here, since arabic does not allow stress on a final open syllable, the 
shortening of final nuclei does follow from their being unstressed rather than 
from their being final.

d) James L. Fidelholtz :
I'm not sure whether this is what you are looking for, but
Micmac (Eastern Algonquian) generally has the long-short vowel
distinction everywhere except in final position, where long vowels
are shortened and short vowels are dropped. There are a *very* few
words in which there is a final (usually stressed) long vowel, but most of
these are borrowings.

Same comment as for Mutsun (b).

e) Robert Orr :
Several theories of the development of Common Slavic (which I do not share)
appear to argue for something similar to what you are asking about,
especially VN combinations.

As such, losses and mergers frequently take place in word-final position, and 
analogical changes often occur. In many instances it appears as though there have
been special phonetic and/or phonological developments in word-final
position; Auslautgesetze (sound-changes peculiar to word-final
syllables; ALG) are often reconstructed to account for some of the
more problematic endings in IE studies, and ALG are cited in the study
of Common Slavic more than anywhere else in IE. The concept has been
around for well over a century: ALG in one form or another have been
employed in the reconstruction of the development of Slavic since it
became a field of study.
Later on:
quantitative ALG (the shortening of long syllables in final position, comparable to
similar developments in Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, and

f) Alain Th�riault:
En fran�ais qu�b�cois, il y a une distinction entre (vous) faites [fEt] et 
f�te [fE:t], mettre [mEtr] et ma�tre [mE:tr]. Cette voyelle longue est 
g�n�ralement diphtongable. Par contre, en syllabe finale ouverte, seule la voyelle
br�ve est attest�e.

2) Length contrasts are neutralized in final position, where only
*long* nuclei are allowed. This can be due to stress in some cases

a) Jakob Dempsey :
Within Tibeto-Burman, languages such as Teddim Chin show a similar pattern, although
the main description available to me has ONLY long vowels in final position, thus the 
length in that position is really open to individual interpretation since there is no 

b) Tone Victoria Midtg�rd :
Norwegian does have a V/V: distinction in stressed syllables. In wordfinal open 
stressed syllables however, one only gets V:. In unstressed syllables one only gets V.

"sil" (sieve) [si:l]
"sild" (herring) [sil]
"si" (say) [si:]
[si] is not possible in Norwegian, except from when unstressed.

3) Final vowels are shorter than internal vowels, but this seems
to be associated to the morphological structure of the word. It
remains unclear whether or not the morphological pattern is
conditioned by (productive) phonological constraints.

Kathryn Flack :
In response to your query on LINGUIST, I think that Dinka, a language from
southern Sudan, might fit what you're looking for. Dinka has, in fact, a
three-way length contrast. The language is primarily monosyllabic,
with some suffixation. Stems can be V, VV, or VVV. Suffixes, however, cannot be
VVV. (I'm not sure whether they can be VV or not) The origins of this seem
to be that stem-internal VVV evolved from a VV stem plus a V suffix, where
the suffix mora was absorbed into the stem itself to note the relevant
morphology. There are, however, a handful of VVV roots too. All the Dinka 
suffixes I know of are V-final.

Once again, many thanks to all who responded.

Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho
320, rue des Pyr�n�es
75020 Paris France
Tel./fax : 01 43 66 95 24
(If calling from outside France,
please replace the prefix '01' with '00331'.)

Departement de linguistique
Faculte des Sciences Humaines et Sociales - Sorbonne
Universite Rene Descartes - Paris V
CNRS : ESA 7018, GDR 1954
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