LINGUIST List 9.371

Fri Mar 13 1998

Disc: Short Diphthongs

Editor for this issue: Elaine Halleck <>


  1. Joaquim Brandaode Carvalho, Re: Linguist 9.355--short diphthongs

Message 1: Re: Linguist 9.355--short diphthongs

Date: Wed, 11 Mar 1998 10:10:32 +0200
From: Joaquim Brandaode Carvalho <>
Subject: Re: Linguist 9.355--short diphthongs

Jim Scobbie wrote (Linguist 9.355):

Is anyone currently doing any work on short diphthongs, either descriptive
or theoretical who would like to discuss them on email?

By short diphthongs, I mean the language should have a pair of
contrastive diphthongs which pattern with monophthongal long/short pairs
(and it's ok if the monophthongal pairs are allophones). A length contrast
in diphthongs will typically have phonetic correlates that are both durational
and qualitative.

Short/long allophonic diphthong phenomena are also of interest.

The interest theoretically is that most models of syllable structure find
short diphthongs hard to integrate, particularly if they are bimoraic (and
able, for example, to satisfy a bimoraic minimal word contraint).


I'm currently working on a model of syllable structure, and, more
generally, of skeletal representation. I'm particularly interested by the
links between length and moraicity. Jim Scobbie clearly dissociates length
and mono-/bimoraic contrasts : cf. 'particularly if [short diphthongs] are
bimoraic'. I'd like to know the basis, either theoretical or empirical, for
such a distinction.

Regarding diphthongs, if length and moraicity are viewed as relatively
autonomous aspects, I suppose that empirical data provide the following set
of possibilities :

	 short	 long

monomoraic Yes	 No

bimoraic	 Yes	 Yes

Now, problems arise if we adopt a systemic point of view. I know of
languages having :

(1) only short monomoraic diphthongs (especially as allophones),
(2) only short bimoraic diphthongs (and no length contrast, e.g. my native
language, Portuguese),
(3) both short monomoraic and long bimoraic diphthongs (and length
contrasts in general).

However, I don't know of any language having :

(4) only long bimoraic diphthongs,
(5) both monomoraic and bimoraic short diphthongs,
(6) both short and long bimoraic diphthongs.

It is certainly possible to account for the impossibility in (4) in terms
of markedness conditions. But, if the statements above are empirically
valid, and given the fact that (3) is well-attested, then what, in any
phonological theory, could disallow (5) and (6) ?

I wonder : is it theoretically relevant and empirically useful to
distinguish between 'length' and 'moraicity' regarding vowels and
diphthongs ? This might be the basic reason why 'most models of syllable
structure find
short diphthongs hard to integrate'. On the other hand, by assuming that
'vowel length' follows from moraicity, we would constrain and simplify the
theory, which is always epistemologically interesting.

Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho
1, rue Henri Poincare
75020 Paris
Tel./fax : 01 43 64 34 18
(If calling from outside France,
please replace the prefix '01' with '331'.)

Departement de linguistique
Faculte des Sciences Humaines et Sociales - Sorbonne
Universite Rene Descartes - Paris V
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