LINGUIST List 15.2832
Mon Oct 11 2004
Review: Phonology: Lehiste et al. (2003)
Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <naomilinguistlist.org>
What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Shiela Collberg at collberglinguistlist.org.
Message 1: Erzya Prosody
From: Katrin Hiietam <katrinhiietamhotmail.com>
Subject: Erzya Prosody
AUTHOR: Lehiste, Ilse; Aasmäe, Niina; Meister, Einar; Pajusalu, Karl; Teras,
Pire & Viitso, Tiit-Rein
TITLE: Erzya Prosody
SERIES: Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 245
PUBLISHER: Finno-Ugrian Society
Announced at http://test.linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-1549.html
Katrin Hiietam, unaffiliated scholar
'Erzya Prosody' is an experimental study investigating the patterns of
contrastive suprasegmental features - quantity, tone and stress - of a
lesser-known Finno-Ugric language Erzya. It constitutes a part of the project
'Finno-Ugric Prosody' and is a
collaborative research undertaking of several Estonian linguists working within
various theoretical frameworks (p.3). The main aim of the book is to present new
data about Erzya prosody in order to make it comparable to more widely known
prosodic systems of Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian (p.10-11). The presentation is
clear and easy to follow, making this book suitable for both tudents and more
experienced researchers of prosody.
The study is based on the productions of test words (104 in two positions in a
frame sentence, the total of 208 test words) by eight subjects, 4 males and 4
females, all native speakers of Erzya. The subjects of the study were chosen so
as to constitute
a representative sample with a more-or-less uniform dialectal background (p.48).
The test words were selected by one of the reserachers, T.-R Viitso and they
divide into the following seven groups: monosyllabic, mono- or disyllabic,
trisyllabic, and words with 4-, 5-, and 6 syllables (given in Appendix 2).
The four chapters of the book are summarised below:
Introduction, Chapter 1, gives the background of the study. Erzya is one of the
Finno-Ugric languages spoken on the territory of present day Central Russia.
Along Moksha, it has traditionally been classified as one of the Mordvin
languages (p. 3, 10). However, Erzya has been considered exceptional among
languages because of its extremely rich inventory of morpho-syntactic
categories, the smallest number of vowels - 5 - (Zaicz 1998:187), and its word
initial consonant clusters (p. 15, 17). Another reason why Erzya can be set
apart from other languages in this group is its prosodic system. It has been
claimed that Erzya either has free word stress or no stress at all as opposed to
the fixed word stress in the Finno-Ugric group. In addition, a widely accepted
point of view is that Erzya has neither contrastive quantity nor tone (p.10).
Chapter 1 also briefly contrasts the Erzya prosodic inventory with that of
better studied Finno-Ugric languages, Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian. The
latter languages seem to be similar with their
opposition between short and long phonemes, tonal contrasts that are dependent
of other prosodic features, and fixed word stress (c.f. e.g. Ross & Lehiste
2001, Abondolo 1998). That said, it also has to be noted that Finnic languages
(Finnish and Estonian) and Ugric ones (Hungarian) form separate groups in terms
specific prosodic features (p.11).
Chapter 2 constitutes one of the main parts of the book, namely it reports on
previous studies on Erzya prosody. The Chapter is largely based on previous work
by one of the authors (Aasmäe 2003), and it distills the research directions
that have emerged diachronically.
Drawing on earlier work, two entities of the prosodic system are reported to be
present in Erzya, these are quantity and stress. Therefore, the current research
focuses on the possible existence of contrastive duration and on the role of
stress in Erzya prosody (p.48). The relevant research question is whether a
stressed syllable is identifiable by having greater length, higher pitch, or by
lack of vowel reduction (p.11, 47).
Following the summary of the earlier work, Chapter 3 presents an acoustic
analysis of the material obtained. As the focus of the study is the role of
stress and quantity in Erzya, the measured factors are the following: 1) the
duration of sounds, 2) the
acoustic structure of vowels, and 3) their fundamental frequencies (details
given in Appendix 3). The stressed and unstressed syllables are considered both
in phrase-final and sentence-final positions and their differences are captured. The
location of stress is identified by two authors, one of them a native speaker of
Erzya, and the other a trained phonetician. The cases where no agreement was
reached in terms of the location of stress, have received extra attention in the
The questions that Chapter 3 is looking to answer are 1) whether word-level
stress is indicated by differences in duration, in case there is no quantity
contrast; 2) whether vowel quality indicates the position of stress in case
there is vowel reduction in Erzya; 3) whether there is a difference between
stressed and unstressed syllables; and 4) how dynamic stress, if there is one in
Erzya, is related to sentence intonation.
Finally, Chapter 4 summarises the discussion and gives a brief typological
comparison of the results of the previous studies and the present one. The study
shows that there exists a certain amount of externally conditioned durational
variation regarding the syllable structure (closed vs. open syllables, and
complex syllable nuclei) but this cannot be considered a manifestation of pure
quantitative contrast (p.84). Therefore, no independently contrastive use of
duration is present in the tested material. The same applies to pitch which
that duration and pitch in Erzya imply stressedness (p.85). Instead, the feature
differentiating between stressed and unstressed syllables seems to be gradual
vowel reduction. However, the degree of reduction, may, according to the authors,
partly depend on the speaking style (p.85).
Although stress was not found to be either contrastive or identificational, one
of its functions that emerged was the establishment of higher-level prosodic
units, that is, dividing words and utterances into disyllabic entities. This
phenomenon is also familiar from other Finno-Ugric languages. Yet, different
from e.g. Estonian, the higher-level rhythmical stress can disregard word
boundaries and move the word stress to even syllables (p.86).
The book also contains an extensive Appendices section, where one finds the map
of languages and dialects of Erzya (Appendix 1), list of test words (Appendix
2); additional data of acoustic analysis (Appendix 3), and statistical data of
variance (ANOVA) (Appendix 4). All this proves extremely helpful in reading the
descriptive parts of the book and the analysis.
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE
The authors state that their contribution provides a starting point for research
on Erzya and as there are not many descriptions of the acoustic system of this
language available (to name a few recent ones, there are Aasmäe 2003 and Zaicz
1998). This said, it undoubtedly is a welcome and significant addition to work
conducted on less well-known Finno-Ugric languages.
In addition, as also pointed out by the authors, there is ample room for
follow-up studies. The authors mention moving on the incontestable minimal pairs
for the tested prosodic features to establish any possible effects of the frame
sentence on the tested words (86) and it certainly is a topic to consider in
this connection. Besides considering variation that is present due to the
syntactic environment of the tested words, I would suggest broadening the base
of the study and for example looking at any sociolinguistic diversity in
prosodic patterns. The subjects for the present study had all higher education
and experienced a significant influence of other languages in their everyday
lives. Comparing the current test results with another group of subjects who use
Erzya in all spheres of everyday life would allow us to draw conclusions on any
possible second language interference to the prosodic system of Erzya.
Furthermore, throughout the book ample reference is made to Estonian in
discussions. While it is useful to know how a Ugric language relates to a Finnic
one in terms of its prosodic patterns, the present findings can be placed in a
typologically if we could have similar test results from several other
Finno-Ugric languages. Overall, as the present study is meant to provide a
starting point for any following research projects, it definitely has filled its
function by evoking a array of research ideas and definitely not only in the
Aasmäe, N. (2003). Erzya Prosody: findings over time. MA thesis. Tartu:
University of Tartu, department of Estonian and Finno-Ugric Linguistics
Abondolo, D. (1998) Hungarian. The Uralic Languages. In Abandolo (Ed.) The
Uralic Languages. London, New York: Routledge
Ross, J. & I. Lehiste. (2001). The temporal structure of Estonian runic songs.
Berlin, New York: Routledge
Zaicz, G. (1998). Mordva. In: Abandolo, (Ed.) The Uralic Languages. London, New
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Katrin Hiietam is currently an unaffiliated scholar. She has her main research
interests in the morpho-syntax of Finno-Ugric languages.
Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue