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Academic Paper


Title: Eastern Nilotic Vowel Harmony and Optimality Theory: What Can the Optimal System Look Like?
Author: Diane Frances Lesley-Neuman
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: University of the Gambia
Linguistic Field: Phonology; Typology
Subject Language: Karamojong
Turkana
Toposa
Subject LANGUAGE Family: Nilo-Saharan
Abstract: Optimality theoretic analyses of Eastern Nilotic (EN) vowel harmony originate from two distinct research traditions. The first comprises theoreticians from outside of the sub-family specialization who seek to develop proposals with universal validity, while linguists respectful of the Africanist descriptivist tradition comprise the second. Some proposals have emphasized the systematicity of spreading processes over the irregularities generally found in surface forms of vowel harmony systems.

These irregularities, products of historical change, are deemed here to be part of the grammars of their respective languages and to constitute phenomena to be accounted for theoretically. This minimally entails explanation for the existence of two or more harmony processes within a single grammar, disharmonic domains generated by consonant-generated features and dissimilation rules, variation in harmony set membership according to harmony process type, members of the harmony set doubling as neutral vowels in specific morphemic environments while the morphemes themselves also vary in their status as neutral or active. Contrast is offered between those proposals emphasizing Richness of the Base with those that argue for underspecification and account for surface form irregularities within their constraint-based hierarchies. Models that explain the phonetics-phonology and morphology-phonology interfaces are considered to be the future direction in the theoretical analysis of EN phonology, and should model the historical changes generating phonological phenomena.
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Venue: 11th Nilo-Saharan Linguistics Colloquium, Cologne, Germany May 22-24, 2013
Publication Info: Mietzner, A. & Storch, A. (2015). Nilo-Saharan: Models and Descriptions. Cologne: Rudiger Koeppe Verlag. Ch. 19, pp. 273-310.
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