It was about one and a half years ago that I finally I arrived where I had always wanted to be and do what I had always wanted-- teach students, support small language communities and conduct research on African languages on my doorstep. The University of Cape Town and my new colleagues welcomed my efforts to establish the Centre for African Language Diversity-- CALDi as well as The African Language Archive-- TALA and I was recently appointed the Mellon Research Chair: African Language Diversity this initiative. The main aim of CALDi is to train young African scholars in descriptive linguistics and open up space for research into African languages at UCT with the hopes of countering the dominance of African linguistics outside the continent. It has been a great challenge for which my whole career has been a form of preparation...Read more
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The Role and Representation of Minimal Contrast and the Phonetics-Phonology Interaction
This study investigates the role of minimal contrast in phonetics and
phonology. Two sounds are minimally contrastive when they differ in just
one property. The main findings are that (i) minimal contrast can influence
phonetic effects and (ii) phonological processes may single out minimally
contrastive elements. An experiment tests the influence of minimal length
contrast on the phonetic voicing effect, a pattern by which vowels are
longer before voiced than before voiceless obstruents, in Lithuanian. In
Lithuanian, only high and low vowels are minimally contrastive for length.
The results indicate the voicing effect is more limited for those vowels
that are minimally contrastive for length, showing a phonetic pattern
sensitive to minimal contrast. Therefore, it is argued that the
phonological representation must include information about minimal
contrast. Minimal contrast is formalized with a contrast-coindexing
function, which applies to minimally contrastive segments capable of
distinguishing pairs of words.
Contrast-coindexing predicts that minimal contrast might also be active in
the phonology. Evidence for this comes from vowel height harmony in Lena
Asturian, where only vowels minimally contrastive for height can trigger
harmony. The typology of vowel harmony from several varieties related to
Lena further supports the active role of minimal contrast.