Phonology: case studies

By Scott Myers and Megan Crowhurst
Department of Linguistics at the University of Texas

Vowel deletion

The following examples illustrate an alternation of a vowel with nothing.

Utterance-final Before a consonant-initial word Before a vowel-initial word
"to see"
kubona neza
"to see well"
kubona umuntu
"to see the person"
umwana akunda
"a child he/she likes"
umuntu munini
"a big person"
umuntu akunda
"a person he/she likes"
abantu banini
"big people"
abantu akunda
"people he/she likes"
umugabo munini
"big man"
umugabo akunda
"a man he/she likes"
igitabo kinini
"big book"
igitabo akunda
"a book he/she likes"
intebe nshya
"a new chair"
intebe akunda
"a chair he/she likes"
ingurube nzima
"a live pig"
ingurube akunda
"a pig he/she likes"

In all these cases, there is an alternation between a vowel-final form of the word that occurs at the end of an utterance or before a consonant-initial word, and a consonant-final form of the word that occurs only before a vowel-initial word in the same phrase.

Utterance-final Before a consonant-initial word Before a vowel-initial word
[kuβónaʰ] [kuβóna] [kuβón]
[umŋâ:naʰ] [umŋâ:n]
[umu:nɦuʰ] [umu:nɦu] [umu:nɦ]
[aβa:nɦu] [aβa:nɦ]
[umugaβo̥] [umugaβo] [umugaβ]
[iɟitaβo] [iɟitaβ]
[iŋguɾuβe] [iŋguɾuβ]

The alternating sounds in this case are the word-final vowels, which are alternating with ø, i.e. nothing: i ~ ø, e ~ ø, a ~ ø, o ~ ø, u ~ ø.

The fact that these vowels are alternating indicates that there is a restriction on distribution involving word-final vowels. Either there is a context where a vowel cannot occur, or there is a context where a vowel must occur, i.e. the string without the vowel is disallowed. In this case we can observe that if the vowel-final alternant occurred before a vowel-initial word, there would be a sequence of vowels. We do not in fact see any such sequences in our data: a vowel never occurs before a vowel in another word. We can state this restriction succinctly as follows:


Here the asterix indicates that the configuration that follows is not allowed. The hash mark "#" indicates the edge of a word. This is not a complementary or a neutralization distribution. Those are distributions involving two classes of sounds. Alternations induced by complementary or neutralization distributions are alternations between two classes of sounds. One class occurs in a particular context and the other class doesn't. In an alternation with ø, on the other hand, we can't state the distribution of ø, since ø has no distribution. We can just state the sequence that does not occur.

The generalization we have made says that there is a context (before another vowel) where a vowel cannot occur. We should also consider the alternative: that there is a context where a vowel must occur. If the consonant-final alternant occurred at the end of an utterance, there would be a consonant-final utterance. This doesn't occur in our dataset. The problem with this line, though, is that there is a range of vowels that alternate with zero, and we can't predict from context which vowel belongs with which morpheme. Thus the true distributional statement that no utterance ends in a consonant does not lead to a viable analysis.

Derivational analysis
OT analysis