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Summary Details

Query:   Sum: Onsetless syllables
Author:  Katalin Balogne Berces
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonology

Summary:   Dear Linguists,

Quite a few months ago (sorry for posting the summary so late!) I had a query that went like this (Issue 14.1652):
I would like to collect information on the cross-linguistic distribution and behaviour of vowel-initial syllables. For example, is there any implicational relationship between the occurrence of word-initial and word-medial ones, e.g., do you always have hiatuses in languages with vowel-initial words? Or, do you know of any cases where vowel-initial words behave in a special way?

First I would like to thank all those who replied, irrespective of whether I am mentioning their names below or not.
Here is the summary of the replies.

Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho describes European Portuguese as having frequent initial onsetless syllables but virtually no hiatuses since they were eliminated during the history of the language. He also expresses his hopes that there is no language which allows hiatuses but not #V-syllables, and refers me to his paper where this is an issue of the model of syllable structure proposed:
Carvalho, Joaquim Brandao de (2002). Formally-grounded phonology. From constraint-based theories to theory-based constraints. Studia linguistica 56, 227-263. [esp. p. 245, note 5].

Philip Carr writes: In Standard Malay, glottal stop insertion occurs when a vowel-initial word is preceded by a vowel-final word, in compounds, in reduplicated words and in sequences of words which form syntactic phrases. Word-internally, when a prefix ending in a vowel is attached to a vowel-initial root, a glottal stop is inserted. When a vowel-initial suffix is added to a root ending in a high vowel, Glide Formation takes place. If the root ends in a non-high vowel, a glottal stop is inserted. Interestingly, Glide Formation doesn't take place when a prefix ending in a high vowel is followed by a vowel-initial root; rather, there's a glottal stop.

Rod Casali did his dissertation on hiatus resolution and says that there are many languages that freely tolerate word-initial vowels and yet do not have word-medial vowel sequences (or have such sequences only under very restricted circumstances, e.g. where a consonant drops out between two medial vowels) and moreover apply some means (e.g. vowel deletion, glide formation, coalescence) of avoiding vowel sequences that would arise in cases where underlying vowels are adjacent across word or morpheme boundaries. (Many of the Niger-Congo languages he looked at in his dissertation fall into this category, just like the Amazonian languages Paumari and Banaw? Daniel L. Everett refers me to.) Rod also points out that in the optimality theory literature, some have argued that the constraint that drives hiatus resolution is not a general constraint (ONSET) against onsetless syllables, but a constraint against vowel sequences (*VV).

Unfortunately a few of you misunderstood my questions, and sent information about languages that are/can be analysed as not having onsets or having VC as the preferred syllable type. Although this is a little bit beyond my topic, I?m providing the sources you referred me to just in case anybody reading this is interested in this aspect of the issue.

In the inventory of linguistic universals/rarities collected under the direction of Frans Plank at Konstanz University, this specific problem is mentioned under the heading 101 at:
The source of this item was Pier Marco Bertinetto, who was kind enough to send me the link as well as a paper of his on the same topic. I?m willing to forward it to anyone interested, but let me warn you that it is written in Italian.

Anna Bosch provided the following titles:

Sommer, Bruce A. 1970. An Australian language without CV syllables. International Journal of American Linguistics [IJAL] 36.

for a counterargument, see:
Darden, Bill. 1971. A note on Sommer's claim that there exist languages without CV syllables. IJAL 37.

Borgstrom, C.H. 1937. The Dialect of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. Norsk Tidskrift for Sprogvidenskap, 8, Oslo.

Bosch, Anna. 1998a. ?The Syllable in Scottish Gaelic Dialect Studies,? Scottish Gaelic Studies XVIII, 1-22.

Bosch, Anna & Kenneth de Jong. 1998b. ?Syllables and Supersyllables: Evidence for Low Level Phonological Domains.? Texas Linguistic Forum 41: Exploring the Boundaries Between Phonetics and Phonology, 1-14.

Bosch, Anna, & Kenneth de Jong. 1997. ?The Prosody of Barra Gaelic Epenthetic Vowels.? Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 27, 1-15.

1994. ?Syncope and Epenthesis in Scottish Gaelic: Rules and Phonotactics.? Proceedings from the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Formal Linguistics Society of Midamerica, 35-47.

Angela Carpenter provided the following titles:

Lichtenberk, Frantisek 1983. A grammar of Manam. Oceanic Liguistics Special Publications 18. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press

Davis, Stuart 1988. Syllable onsets as a factor in stress rules. Phonology 5, pg. 1-19

Breen, G and R. Pensalfini 999. Arrernete: A language with no syllable onsets. Linguistic Inquiry 30, pg. 1-25

(The bibliography in the Breen & Pensalfini paper might be especially helpful, as Angela remarks.)

Thank you all again for this much help, and let me use this occasion to ask further questions. I?m still looking for examples of languages with unresolved hiatuses but no vowel-initial words (do such languages exist?) and cases where vowel-initial words behave in a special way, e.g. what examples of cross-word resyllabification/ambisyllabicity are there? I?m fully aware of the story of English t/d-tapping/flapping, but how about other languages?

Best regards,
Katalin Balogn? B?rces

LL Issue: 15.889
Date Posted: 25-Jan-2004
Original Query: Read original query


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