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Vowel harmony and phonological phrasing in Gua

Abstract

In Gua, an underdocumented Tano Guang language spoken in Ghana, regressive ATR vowel harmony applies within words and non-iteratively across word boundaries. Although vowel harmony is known to cross word boundaries in some languages, little is known about the domains and extent of such harmony. We show that ATR harmony in Gua operates within phonological phrases that preferentially consist of two or three words, with binary phrases at the left edge and ternary phrases at the right edge of the utterance. Syntactic structure can exert an influence, but only with respect to subjects. In addition, we demonstrate that unary phrases are permitted, but not at the edge of the utterance. Gua is the first reported vowel harmony case that shows the same kind of phonological phrasing sensitivity as other prosodic phenomena, such as tone and duration.

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Data Availability

Data were collected from six speakers of Gua by Obiri-Yeboah in Boso, Ghana (see Sect. 2 of paper for details). Data are stored on a cloud server at UC San Diego. Obiri-Yeboah is a native speaker of Gua, so all data collection was conducted using Gua.

Notes

  1. 1.

    A three-word unit could have internal recursive structure in which one word adjoins to a binary phonological phrase: (ω(ωω)φ)φ or (ωω)φω)φ. Harmony would then apply between words that are separated by at most an internal single adjunction boundary such as )φ but not across two separate phonological phrases: )φ(. However, there is no overt evidence for such internal structure, and harmony can operate between either the first and second words or the second and third words, depending on which word is +ATR, no matter the syntactic representation, so we assume a simpler representation with no prosodic recursion.

  2. 2.

    An exploration of vowel hiatus and its interaction with vowel harmony is beyond the scope of this paper. Preliminary investigations suggest that it applies within the same phonological phrases as vowel harmony, but is blocked across them. However, it can induce opacity, suggesting a cyclic analysis where fusion applies after vowel harmony. See Obiri-Yeboah (forthcoming) for a description.

  3. 3.

    This is reminiscent of Pānini’s Law in which shorter phrases precede longer phrases, or the ‘heavy-last’ principle in right-branching languages (Hawkins 1994; Shih et al. 2015), as well as phonological constraints on binomial ordering (Pinker and Birdsong 1979; Benor and Levy 2006) in which the word with more syllables is preferentially placed second. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pointing out the relevance of this research to the Gua data.

  4. 4.

    See Chen (2000:376–378) for a discussion on why he advocates the use of the more neutral term ‘minimal rhythmic unit’ rather than ‘foot’ or ‘prosodic word.’

  5. 5.

    Kügler (2019) reports data from Anum that the time adverbial dúdú ‘Monday’ is phrased separately from the rest of the sentence in both a four-word and a six-word sentence. This does not accord with Boso data, where the same sentences would incorporate dúdú into the last prosodic phrase where it would trigger vowel harmony. Kügler (2019) also reports that serial verbs with an object between the verbs would be phrased separately in Anum. However, the second of the two verbs in his example sentences are actually gerunds, so it’s not clear these are serial verb constructions. Either way, similar sentences in Boso would allow the gerund to trigger harmony on the preceding noun, dependent on the number of words in the sentence.

  6. 6.

    Baron (2019) uses the constraint PROSPROM (XP,φ)-Assign one violation for every prominent (i.e. clause-initial) syntactic phrase XP that does not constitute its own phonological phrase φ. Although this is not the original use of PROSPROM in Selkirk (2011), it is a general means of referring to a clause-initial subject.

  7. 7.

    Elordieta (2007b) reports that Northern Bizkaian Basque requires that the initial intonational phrase (maximal phonological phrase) of an IP be binary at the accentual phrase level (minimal phonological phrase). While referring to units higher in the prosodic hierarchy than prosodic words, the same principle is in effect.

  8. 8.

    Prieto (2005) notes that Catalan has a preference for a maximal binary phrase at the utterance right edge, but no minimal binarity requirement.

  9. 9.

    This is the direct method of regulating the size of the aligned phrases—binary at the left and ternary at the right. An alternative method would be indirect. The left edge requires a minimal phonological phrase, which is unary, while the right edge requires a maximal phonological phrase, which is ternary (see Chen (2000) for similar assumptions on minimal rhythmic unit alignment). Any deviance from the minimal or maximal size at the edge is assessed gradiently, so that a binary phrase at the left edge incurs one violation as it is one word larger than unary, and a ternary phrase incurs two violations. Unary phrases at edges are independently ruled out, so candidates with binary phrases at the left edge are favored. The reverse occurs at the right edge. These two methods are essentially equivalent. We have tested them both in OTWorkplace (Prince et al. 2016), and they both select the correct winning candidates. Therefore, if one objects to direct reference to binary or ternary, the more general notions of minimal and maximal could be employed. For simplicity, we adopt the direct method.

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Acknowledgements

We are very grateful to the Gua consultants in Boso who provided the original data for this paper: N.K. Afunyah, Emmanuel Addo, Vida Asantewaa Addo, Christiana Ayeh, Victoria Obiri-Yeboah, and the late Kwaku Obiri-Yeboah, as well as Seth Aduamah and Dora Offeibea-Aduamah, who provided additional data. Audiences at the 92nd Linguistics Society of America Annual Meeting, 48th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, Southern California Annual Meeting on Phonology, Rencontres d’Automne de Linguistique Formelle, and the University of Oregon gave us very useful comments. We are grateful for insights and suggestions from Eric Baković, Gabriela Caballero, Emily Clem, Laura Downing, Peter Jenks, Michelle Yuan and UC San Diego Phonco members. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor for extremely helpful feedback throughout the review process. The first author received funding from the International Institute, UC San Diego to support this research.

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International Institute, University of California San Diego.

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Both authors contributed to the study conception and design. Data collection was conducted by Michael Obiri-Yeboah. Data analysis was performed by Michael Obiri-Yeboah and Sharon Rose. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Michael Obiri-Yeboah. Subsequent drafts were written by both authors. Both authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michael Obiri-Yeboah or Sharon Rose.

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Obiri-Yeboah, M., Rose, S. Vowel harmony and phonological phrasing in Gua. Nat Lang Linguist Theory (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-021-09509-y

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Keywords

  • ATR vowel harmony
  • Phonology-syntax interface
  • Cross-word harmony
  • Phonological phrasing
  • Gua