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Attachment height and prosodic phrasing in Rutooro

Abstract

Rutooro is a Bantu language of Uganda that lacks lexical tone. Instead, prominence in Rutooro is marked with a High tone (H) on the penultimate syllable of the phonological phrase (φ-phrase). Like many languages in the family, syntactic XPs reliably correspond to φ-phrases; however, we find a previously unattested pattern in the prosody of Rutooro adnominal phrases. Head nouns are marked H when they combine with strong determiners and full relative clauses (RCs). In contrast, nouns do not bear an H tone when they combine with weak determiners, adjectives, and reduced RCs. We propose that the distribution of H tones serves as a diagnostic for whether an adnominal is generated in a DP-internal or external position. Reduced object RCs with overt subjects are a special case: the relativized head bears an unexpected H tone, while the subject is all-Low despite the fact that it is a self-contained XP. Also in the realm of reduced RCs, when a relativized head is separated from the RC by an additional modifier, e.g. an adjective, that modifier is realized as all-Low even though it is phrasal. We hypothesize that the attested, nonisomorphic phrasing arose to prevent i) ambiguity and ii) prosodic indeterminacy—when prosodic structure could be the output of more than one syntactic configuration—and was subsequently grammaticalized.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Others include Tumbuka (Downing 2016), Nyakyusa (Persohn 2017), Mbunga, Pogolo (Odden p.c.), and of course Swahili.

  2. 2.

    Rutooro is an understudied language; previous work includes a Runyooro-Rutooro grammar (Rubongoya 1999), a Rutooro dictionary (Kaji 2007), a few papers on tone that take a primarily diachronic perspective (Kaji 2010, 2018), and papers on vowel elision and harmony (Bickmore 2019a, 2019b). Kaji (2009) discusses nominal modification, which is addressed in Sect. 3. Otherwise, to our knowledge, this paper represents an analysis of entirely novel Rutooro data.

  3. 3.

    Abbreviations used in glosses are as follows: aug — augment vowel, appl — applicative, cm — class marker, fv — final vowel, inf — infinitive, loc — locative, om — object marker, perf — perfective, pl — plural, pst — past, prog — progressive, rel — relative prefix, sg — singular, sm — subject marker, tam — tense aspect mood. Cardinal numbers are used to mark noun class.

  4. 4.

    An exception to the generalization that a final -e indicates subjunctive mood occurs when it follows -ir the perfective suffix, shown in (8).

  5. 5.

    In broad focus, the verb and direct object phrase together in all tense-aspect-moods and in negative contexts, in contrast to what has been found for Haya and Luganda, e.g. see Hyman and Katamba (2010), where phonological phrasing is affected by these considerations.

  6. 6.

    Recall from Sect. 1 that the final vowel in Rutooro distinguishes between the subjunctive and the indicative. In this specific example, it is ultimately realized as compensatory lengthening on the augment.

  7. 7.

    See Zeller (2013) for additional syntactic arguments in favor of a head movement approach to verb stem formation in Bantu languages.

  8. 8.

    We note that there is also wide agreement on the existence of projections associated with the subject located between vP and TP (see works cited above as well as Carstens 2001 and Zeller 2013). We acknowledge that these subject positions likely exist for Rutooro, but as we have not fully explored this possibility, we do not represent them in (17).

  9. 9.

    The reduced relatives clauses discussed in Sect. 4.2 are one exception; however, other types of clauses for which the subject is not a topic might also exist, including, but perhaps not limited to, cases where the clause itself is smaller than CP. We note the possibility then that subjects might surface in the specifier of TP and even perhaps in a projection between TP and CP (see discussion in Carstens 2005 and Cheng and Downing 2009). In any case, we predict that the subject will be delimited from the verb by a H tone associated with its right edge.

  10. 10.

    For a typological perspective on the prosody of DPs in Bantu see Downing’s (forthcoming) examination of data from a variety of Bantu languages, including Jita, Kinande, Makonde, Chichewa, Maliila, and Hyman’s (forthcoming) comparison of the prosody of noun and verb phrases in a number of Rutara languages and Makonde dialects.

  11. 11.

    For both Rutooro and closely related Luganda the presence of an augment on a nominal modifier (adjectival or clausal) co-occurs with a prosodic boundary on the noun. Hyman and Katamba (1990, 1993) analyze these structures as involving “exbraciation,” which entails a syntactic distancing of the modifier from the nominal head when the modifier is introduced by an augment. One important difference between Luganda and Rutooro is that only in the case of Luganda does the presence of an augment on a direct object also necessarily co-occur with a boundary on the verb (Hyman and Katamba 1993).

  12. 12.

    Kaji (2009) also reports that the presence or absence of a H tone on a nominal head depends in part on the size of the modifier: the head noun is all low when it combines with a modifier that has a monosyllabic root e.g. (20c) and (22b), but bears a H tone when it combines with a larger modifier, e.g. (20d) and (22a). As should be clear based on our transcriptions, our speaker does not have any size-based contrasts.

  13. 13.

    Without the High on the verb, the phrase would mean ‘He/she helped Kajumba.’

  14. 14.

    In this discussion, we abstract away from potential differences in the interpretations of the relative clauses in question. While further research may reveal an effect of, for example, the distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive interpretations on the morphosyntactic and tonal properties of these clauses, we have found no such effects to date.

  15. 15.

    Because subject agreement is obligatory in all RCs and takes place at T (see Sect. 2.2), we might expect subject agreement to occur twice in subject relative clauses (once at T and once at C). In the literature on Bantu languages, this situation is sometimes described as Kinyalolo’s Constraint (Kinyalolo 1991): spell-out of agreement on T fails to surface when C also agrees with the category that controls agreement on T (Carstens 2005). For more on Kinyalolo’s Constraint see Baker (2012), Carstens (2005), Henderson (2013) and Kinyalolo (1991).

  16. 16.

    See Kaisse (1985), Odden (1990), Samuels (2009), and Wagner (2005, 2010), and others for examples of direct reference theories in which phrase-level phonological processes refer to syntactic structure directly without the mediating level of prosodic structure shown here.

  17. 17.

    Note that the tree in (56) corresponds to (55); however, hiatus resolution is only shown in (55), i.e. /basoma ebitábu/ → basom’ eebitábu. See also discussion following (9).

  18. 18.

    As stated elsewhere, Match Theory posits the existence of both right-and left-edge boundaries; however only the right-side edges of φ-phrases are marked in our tableau, because H tones are only found at right-side edges. Match Theory also predicts prosodic recursion, but for expository purposes, we are not showing recursive prosodic boundaries here. To our knowledge, Rutooro demonstrates neither gradient cues to prosodic constituency nor an acoustic distinction between minimal and non-minimal projections.

  19. 19.

    Match Theory makes reference to prosodic constituents as opposed to prosodic edges, and as such we need to distinguish the left edge of the prosodic constituent, which we assume exists, from a left edge that is overtly realized.

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Acknowledgements

We warmly thank our language consultant Barbara Balinda. Thanks also to Ryan Bennett, Michael Diercks, Laura Downing, Claire Halpert, Larry Hyman, Sharon Inkelas, Ruth Kramer, Hazel Mitchley, Asia Pietraszko, Omer Preminger, Kristina Riedel, Nicholas Rolle, Josephat Rugemalira, Mark Van de Velde, and Jason Zentz for useful discussion. We also benefited from feedback we received at The Annual Conference on African Linguistics 47 (University of California, Berkeley), The Workshop on the Effects of Constituency on Sentence Phonology (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), and audiences at The University of Toronto, The University of Maryland, Rutgers University, and the Princeton Symposium on Syntactic Theory.

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Clemens, L., Bickmore, L. Attachment height and prosodic phrasing in Rutooro. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 39, 803–842 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-020-09492-w

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Keywords

  • Prosody
  • Bantu
  • Syntax
  • Phonology