This work presents an analysis of the phonotactics of Gitksan, a
Tsimshianic language spoken in northern British Columbia, Canada, and is
based on an electronic lexical database of the language compiled by the
author. The results of this study reveal that Gitksan exhibits several
gradient phonological restrictions on consonantal cooccurrence that hold
over the lexicon. There is a gradient restriction on homorganic consonants,
and within homorganic pairs, there is a gradient restriction on major class
and manner features. It is claimed that these restrictions are due to a
generalized Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP) effect in the grammar, and
that this effect can be relativized to subsidiary features, such as place,
manner, etc. It is argued that these types of effects are most naturally
analyzed with the system of weighted constraints employed in Harmonic Grammar.
In addition to these dissimilatory effects, it is also claimed that Gitksan
exhibits a gradient assimilatory effect among specific consonants. This
type of effect is rare, and is unexpected given the general conditions of
dissimilation in the language. One such effect is the frequency of both
pulmonic pairs of consonants and ejective pairs of consonants, which occur
at rates higher than expected by chance. Another is the occurrence of
uvular-uvular and velar-velar pairs of consonants, which also occur at
rates higher than chance. This pattern is somewhat surprising, as there
exists an overall gradient prohibition on cooccurring pairs of dorsal
consonants. These assimilatory patterns are analyzed using the Agreement by
Correspondence approach, which mandates that output correspondents agree
for some phonological feature.
The analysis presented in this work has implications for other areas of the
phonology of Gitksan, and for phonological theory generally. These areas
include the representation of laryngeal features and of the “guttural”
class of consonants, the learnability of gradient patterns, and the role
that constraints play in both dissimilatory and assimilatory effects.
Jason Brown is a postdoctoral fellow in the department of linguistics at
the University of British Columbia.